SELMER, Tenn. – A woman who killed her preacher husband with a shotgun blast to the back as he lay in bed was sentenced Friday to three years in prison, but with time served could be released on probation in a little more than two months.
Mary Winkler must serve at least 210 days of her sentence but gets credit for the 143 days she has already spent in jail, Judge Weber McCraw said.
That leaves 67 days, and McCraw said up to 60 days of the sentence could be served in a facility where she could receive mental health treatment. That means Winkler might spend only another week in jail.
Prosecutors had pursued a murder charge against Winkler, 33, but jurors convicted her of the lesser count of voluntary manslaughter in April.
"Of course it's a victory," her attorney Steve Farese said. "She could be in prison for life, and that's what everybody thought she was headed for to begin with."
She could have received up to six years for killing her husband, Matthew, in the parsonage where the family lived in March 2006. A day later she was arrested 340 miles away on the Alabama coast, driving the family minivan with her three young daughters inside.
Matthew Winkler's family left the courtroom without commenting, and there was no immediate comment from the prosecution.
Mary Winkler was taken into custody after the sentence was read. Her attorneys said they will talk to her about whether she wants to appeal or seek a new trial, but one of them, Steve Farese, said, "This is probably the end of a long saga."
At her trial Winkler testified she was physically and emotionally abused by her husband, but at her sentencing hearing Friday she said, "I think of Matthew every day, and I'll always miss him and love him."
She pleaded to the judge for leniency, and asked to be reunited with her daughters, now with Matthew Winkler's parents. The judge denied Winkler's request for full probation or judicial diversion, which would have eventually cleared her record of the conviction.
Prosecutors sought the maximum sentence for the death of Matthew Winkler, 31, a popular preacher at the Fourth Street Church of Christ in the small west Tennessee town of Selmer. Prosecutor Walt Freeland described him as a good father and a man who trusted his wife.
Freeland said that just before the fatal shooting bank managers were closing in on a check-kiting scheme that Mary Winkler wanted to conceal from her husband. Prosecutors claimed she had become caught up in a swindle known as the "Nigerian scam," which promises riches to victims who send money to cover the processing expenses.
Winkler, however, testified during her trial that her husband hit and kicked her, forced her to look at pornography and demanded sex she considered unnatural. Jurors were shown a pair of tall, platform shoes and a black wig Winkler said she was pressured to wear during sex.
Matthew Winkler's family said at the sentencing hearing that Mary Winkler's allegations amounted to a second attack on him.
"The monster that you have painted for the world to see? I don't think that monster existed," said his mother, Diane Winkler.
When Mary Winkler took the stand, she turned to her husband's family and told them she was "so sorry this has happened." She said she understood they were angry with her and that she prayed every night for them to have peace.
Diane Winkler, testified that the girls, ages 9, 7 and 2, were having nightmares about people with guns breaking into their house.
"You've never told your girls you're sorry. Don't you think you at least owe them that?" she asked.
Mary Winkler is in a legal fight with her husband's parents over custody of her daughters.
"She'll be able to get out and fight the battle she wants to, and that is to get her children back," her attorney Leslie Ballin said.
Mary Winkler's sister, Tabitha Freeman, asked the judge to give her a chance to be reunited with her children, and called her "the best example of a good person I can think of."
"She just needs them. She's not complete without them," Freeman said.