SELMER, Tenn. – The 9-year-old daughter of a preacher's wife testified Monday at her mother's murder trial that she heard a "big boom" coming from her parents' room, then saw her father on the ground.
"I went to mama and daddy's room to see what had happened. I saw daddy laying on the floor face down," Patricia Winkler said.
The girl kept her composure as she described her father's death, but just after taking the stand, she looked to her mother, Mary, and started crying when the prosecutor asked her for her name and birthday. Mary Winkler and several jurors also began weeping.
Matthew Winkler, a 31-year-old preacher at the Fourth Street Church of Christ in this west Tennessee town, was found dead in the parsonage where the family lived in March 2006. A day later, Mary Winkler was arrested on the Alabama coast 340 miles away, driving in the family minivan with Patricia and her two younger sisters.
Prosecutors have described Matthew Winkler as a good father and husband. But Mary Winkler's attorneys have said the evidence will show he was a dictator at home who terrorized his family and criticized his wife's every move.
Patricia testified he was a good father and she never saw him mistreat her mother. Later, under questioning from a defense attorney, the girl burst into tears after trying to explain why — after one visit — she stopped seeing her mother after Mary Winkler's release from jail.
"Because I didn't want to see her. Well, I mean, I still love her," Patricia said.
The girl recounted hearing a loud noise followed by a thump the day her father was killed.
"Well, at first I heard this big boom, or something, and it seemed like somebody fell on the ground," Patricia said.
Earlier Monday, a forensic pathologist testified that Matthew Winkler was killed by a shotgun blast in the middle of his back. Staci Turner, who conducted the autopsy, said shotgun pellets fractured his spine and ribs, damaging multiple organs.
Turner said she removed 77 pellets from his body.
The defense has said Mary Winkler, 33, intended to hold her husband at gunpoint only to force him to talk about his personal problems after a situation involving their 1-year-old daughter, Breanna. The defense did not describe the situation.
Defense attorneys have also called the shooting accidental.
Last week prosecutors played an audiotape in which Mary Winkler acknowledges shooting her husband, telling investigators her "ugly came out."
But Mary Winkler also told an Alabama Bureau of Investigation agent on the audiotape that her husband had threatened her. "He said something that really scared me. I don't know, something life-threatening," she said, without elaborating further.
She said her husband criticized her for "the way I walk, what I eat, everything. It was just building up to this point. I was just tired of it. I guess I just got to a point and snapped."
The prosecution has said the Winklers were in financial trouble and that bank managers were closing in on a check-kiting scheme that Mary Winkler wanted to conceal from her husband.
Defense attorney Leslie Ballin has hinted Mary Winkler could take the stand.