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Legal victory for Mary Winkler

Filan: Battered women should leave, divorce, flee, not kill

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Preacher's wife found guilty
April 20: MSNBC-TV's Amy Robach speaks with legal analyst Susan Filan on the jail sentence Mary Winkler faces after being found guilty of killing her husband. 
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Susan Filan
Senior legal analyst

It was a victory for Mary Winkler when the jury convicted her of voluntary manslaughter instead of first-degree murder.   In Tennessee, voluntary manslaughter is the “intentional or knowing killing of another in a state of passion produced by adequate provocation sufficient to lead a reasonable person to act in an irrational manner.”   She faces three to six years in prison, rather than life in prison with parole if she had been convicted of first degree murder, as the prosecution urged.

Clearly her testimony worked.  The jury didn’t believe she was in her right mind when she shot her husband Matthew because of the years of abuse she suffered at her preacher-husband’s hands.   They let her off the hook, but only partially.  Instead of an outright acquittal, they reached a middle of the road verdict.   It wasn’t first-degree murder, but it wasn’t entirely legally justified either.   

Apparently, as a minister’s wife, Winkler felt she had to uphold the family image and her husband’s good name at all costs.   And the cost was enormous.  Matthew is dead, and Winkler faces three to six years in prison and has lost custody of her three children, 2, 7, and 9.   These three children have lost their father, and it remains to be seen whether they will ever get their mother back.   

As I analyzed the case, I believed she was a battered spouse, but I still thought it was a case of first degree murder because I did not think that her state of mind, after years of battering, mitigated her decision to go to their closet, get that gun, point it at her husband, and pull the trigger.  I want to send the message that battered women should leave, divorce, flee, not kill.

But I never quarrel with a jury’s decision.   As advocates, we do our best to argue our position, but in the end, we entrust the case to the jury and leave it to their good, reasoned judgment.

I hope this case heightens awareness of spousal abuse.  Domestic violence is a huge problem in this country, and so many women keep the family secret at their and their childrens’ peril.   Winkler couldn’t take it any more, and she, in her own words, “snapped.”  The jury went along with that.  Whether you agree or disagree with the verdict, no one can argue that had Winkler been able to get help with her “secret”, none of this had to happen.



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