SELMER, Tenn. – Jurors had two different pictures of a Tennessee preacher's wife to consider as they began deliberating her fate Thursday. Was she an abused woman who accidentally shot her husband or did she intentionally shoot him in the back and leave him to die in the church parsonage?
Mary Winkler testified Wednesday that her husband had abused her physically and sexually, but she said the shotgun went off accidentally as she pointed it at him. She said she had just wanted to talk to him.
The prosecution called the notion of an accidental shooting "ludicrous" and urged the jury to find her guilty of first-degree murder. Deliberations began Thursday morning after six days of testimony.
If convicted of first-degree murder, Winkler, 33, could be sentenced to 60 years in prison, but the jury could decide to convict her of a lesser charge.
Defense attorney Steve Farese said in his closing argument that the prosecution "absolutely, positively" did not prove Winkler intended to kill Matthew Winkler — something required for a conviction of first-degree murder. But Farese left open the possibility that she could have been guilty of a lesser crime.
"Have they proven any crime? Well — and this is hard for me to say — maybe," Farese said. "Maybe she was negligent."
Mary Winkler testified that she just wanted to talk to her 31-year-old husband when she went into their bedroom that day in March 2006, but that she was too terrified. "He just could be so mean," she said.
Winkler said her husband had punched her in the face, kicked her at times, refused to grant her a divorce and forced her to perform sex acts she thought were unnatural. Shortly before the shooting, she said, he held his hand over their 1-year-old daughter's mouth and nose to make her be quiet.
But Winkler also said under cross-examination that her husband did "nothing" for which he deserved to die.
Mary Winkler's depiction of her marriage was at odds with the description by the prosecution, whose witnesses described Matthew Winkler as a good father and husband. The couple's 9-year-old daughter, Patricia, testified that she never saw him mistreat her mother.
A day after Matthew Winkler was fatally shot in his back, his wife was arrested 340 miles away on the Alabama coast, driving the family minivan with their three young daughters.
Mary Winkler said she planned to return to Selmer but wanted time alone with her daughters. She also said she still loved her husband.
A psychologist testified that Mary Winkler could not have formed the intent to commit a crime because of her compromised mental condition. She suffered from mild depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, which started at age 13 when her sister died and worsened as she endured her husband's abuse, Dr. Lynne Zager said.
Mary Winkler said she remembered holding the gun that day but not getting it from the closet. She said she heard a "boom," but said she did not pull the trigger, prompting prosecutor Walt Freeland to ask whether she understood how a trigger worked.
"You know that pulling a trigger is what makes it go boom?" Freeland asked.
"Yes, sir," Mary Winkler replied.
The prosecution said in closing arguments that there was no medical evidence of abuse. Mary Winkler had testified that she was too ashamed to tell anyone. The two had met at Freed-Hardeman University, a Church of Christ-affiliated school in Henderson where Matthew's father was an adjunct professor and Mary took education classes.
Farese, the defense attorney, said: "If you look up spousal abuse in the dictionary, you're going to see Mary Winkler's picture looking back at you."