Defense Lawyers Call Witnesses in Trial of Slain Preacher's Wife, Mary Winkler

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Attorneys for a preacher's wife on trial in her husband's killing began calling witnesses Tuesday to try to show that the minister was an abusive and angry man.

Prosecution witnesses have described Matthew Winkler, a 31-year-old preacher at the Fourth Street Church of Christ in this west Tennessee town, as a good father and husband. But the defense says he terrorized his family and criticized his wife's every move.

Matthew Winkler was found dead in the parsonage in March 2006, and Mary Winkler was arrested the next day on the Alabama coast 340 miles away, driving in the family minivan with her three young daughters. She could be sentenced to up to 60 years in prison if convicted of first-degree murder.

One defense witness testified he saw Mary Winkler with a black eye in 2003, when Matthew Winkler was youth minister at a church in McMinnville, about 65 miles southeast of Nashville.

Rudolph Otto Thompsen III, who let Mary Winkler live with his family while she was free on bond, said Mary explained that she was playing with her girls and one of them accidentally hit her in the eye.

That didn't strike Thompsen as suspicious, and the defense offered no proof that Matthew Winkler gave his wife a black eye. But Thompsen said Mary Winkler's behavior often changed around her husband.

"She was bubbly, grinning and cutting up with everyone and then Matthew walked in," Thompsen said. "It was like you'd thrown a switch. Her head went down, her hands went together."

Another defense witness, Jimmy Jones of McMinnville, said Matthew Winkler once screamed at him and his family in 2003 because he said a barking dog kept him awake all night.

"He began to shout and raised his arms and was basically out of control," Jones said. "You couldn't reason with him."

Prosecutors rested their case Monday after the heartbreaking testimony of the couple's 9-year-old daughter.

When the prosecutor asked Patricia Winkler to state her name and birthdate, she looked over at her mother, Mary Winkler, and began sobbing.

But a few minutes later, Patricia kept her composure as she recalled how she heard a "big boom" come from her parents' room on the morning that her father was shot. She said she ran to their room and saw her father face-down on the floor.

Patricia testified Matthew Winkler was a good father and she never saw him mistreat her mother.

Last week, prosecutors played an audiotape in which Mary Winkler acknowledges shooting her husband, telling investigators her "ugly came out." But she also said her husband had threatened her.

She told Tennessee authorities that 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 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.

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 testify.