SELMER, Tenn. – A preacher's wife who claimed her husband abused her was convicted of voluntary manslaughter Thursday for killing him with a shotgun she said fired accidentally as she aimed at him.
Mary Winkler showed no emotion as the verdict was read.
Prosecutors had sought a first-degree murder conviction, but the jury settled on the lesser charge after deliberating for eight hours. She faces three to six years in prison but would be eligible for parole after serving about a third of the sentence.
If Winkler, 33, had been convicted of first- or second-degree murder, she would have gone to prison for at least 12 years and maybe for the rest of her life. Her lawyers said Mary Winkler's testimony was decisive.
"They had to hear it from Mary; there was no other source," defense attorney Steve Farese said.
Winkler told jurors in powerful testimony Wednesday that her husband, Matthew, abused her physically and sexually, but she said she did not pull the trigger and the shotgun went off accidentally as she pointed it at him.
The prosecution said it was ludicrous to suggest the shooting was an accident. Assistant District Attorney General Walt Freeland said bank managers were closing in on a check-kiting scheme that Mary Winkler wanted to conceal from her husband.
Matthew Winkler, a 31-year-old preacher at the Fourth Street Church of Christ, was found in the church parsonage shot in his back in March 2006. One day later, his wife was arrested on the Alabama coast, driving the family minivan with their three young daughters.
Prosecution witnesses described Matthew Winkler as a good husband and father, and the couple's 9-year-old daughter testified she never saw her father mistreat her mother. Mary Winkler also said under cross-examination that her husband did nothing for which he deserved to die.
"At the end of the day, we're left with the memory of Matthew Winkler," said defense attorney Leslie Ballin. "And even though there have been a lot of negative things said about him in this trial, there were some good things, too, and you heard that from Mary."
Matthew Winkler's father, who is also a preacher, thanked the jury and thanked God for being "our rock and our shield" during the trial.
"We're very grateful for the privilege and honor that was ours to be the parents of Matthew Brian Winkler," Dan Winkler said. "And we treasure the memory of the love that he had for his family, for his Lord, for his church, for us his parents."
The prosecution released a statement that said, "We want the Winkler family to know that our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to them for the loss of their son, brother and father, Matthew Winkler."
The couple's three daughters -- ages 2, 7 and 9 -- are in the custody of his parents, but the defense attorneys said Mary Winkler hopes the verdict will allow her to be reunited with her daughters in the future. She will be sentenced May 18, but is free on bond until then.
Dan and Diane Winkler have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Mary Winkler.
Voluntary manslaughter suggests the crime was committed in an irrational state and premeditation is not necessary for a conviction.
A psychologist testified Mary Winkler could not have formed the intent to commit a crime because of her compromised mental condition. Dr. Lynne Zager said she suffered from mild depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, which started at age 13 when her sister died and got worse because her husband abused her.
The jury of 12 included a woman who said she had been a victim of domestic abuse. They have been sequestered at a motel during the trial, which began April 9.