Image: Mary Winkler
Kyle Carter  /  Reuters file
Mary Winkler, right is followed to her seat by McNairy County Sherriff Rick Roten, left, and bailiff Jerry Bivens while entering a courtroom at the McNairy County Justice Center in Selmer, Tenn., on March 30.
updated 6/14/2006 6:01:38 PM ET 2006-06-14T22:01:38

A minister’s wife accused of fatally shooting her husband pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder Wednesday and told a judge she wants to be released on bond.

Mary Winkler had given a statement to police that investigators describe as a confession, though neither side’s lawyers will discuss a motive. A charge of first-degree murder means prosecutors believe the slaying was premeditated, but they have not said why.

Defense lawyer Steve Farese said he does not expect to argue that someone other than Mary Winkler fired the shot.

Winkler has been in custody since March 23, when she and her three young daughters were spotted by police in Alabama the day after her husband was found dead in their home in Selmer.

Matthew Winkler’s body was found when the family failed to show up for an evening service. A nationwide Amber Alert was issued for the girls, ages 1, 6 and 8.

A storied marriage
Farese said he will seek “a reasonable bond” on the grounds that Winkler is not a public threat or flight risk. The bond hearing is set for June 30, and a trial is scheduled for Oct. 30.

Another defense attorney, Leslie Ballin, acknowledged that Winkler talked to police about the night of the killing but said she would not call the statement a confession.

Winkler’s lawyers said their defense will focus on the “history” of the Winklers’ 10-year marriage.

“Each of those years. Each of those months. Each of those days of marriage has a history to it,” Ballin said. “Things that led up to March 22 need to be told to this jury.”

The children are in the custody of Matthew Winkler’s parents.

Wife was quiet
Members of Matthew Winkler’s fundamentalist Christian congregation had described him as dynamic and popular and his wife as quiet. At the time of the killing, she was a substitute elementary school teacher.

Church members say they saw no trouble with the marriage.

After Winkler’s arrest, defense lawyers said she was unable to talk about her husband’s death and were worried about her emotional health. But Farese said she has begun to talk more.

“Her head is much clearer now, and she’s able to answer questions and concentrate,” he said. She has not seen or talked to her children, who are in the custody of their father’s parents.

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