IMAGE: Mary Winkler
Mark Humphrey  /  AP
Mary Winkler
updated 6/8/2007 8:10:22 PM ET 2007-06-09T00:10:22

The case against a small-town preacher’s wife who shot her husband started out being eligible for the death penalty. It likely ended Friday with a sentence that could mean she has just a week left behind bars.

But while Mary Winkler’s lawyers were claiming victory, it was clear at sentencing that the defense that helped her avoid a murder conviction could make her next battle — for custody of her three daughters — all the more bitter.

Prosecutors said she was trying to cover up a check-kiting scheme when she killed Matthew Winkler with a shotgun blast to the back as he lay in bed. Jurors convicted her of the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter in April after she testified that he hit and kicked her, emotionally abused her, forced her to look at pornography and demanded sex she considered unnatural.

Diane Winkler said on the stand Friday that the testimony amounted to a second attack on her son.

“The monster that you have painted for the world to see? I don’t think that monster existed,” she said.

Mary Winkler is in a custody fight with her husband’s parents over her daughters. Diane Winkler said 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 was sentenced to three years in prison, but she will be eligible for probation after serving 210 days and gets credit for the 143 days she has already spent in jail. Judge Weber McCraw said that up to 60 of the remaining 67 days could be served in a facility where she could receive mental health treatment.

“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.”

No comment from his family
Prosecutors had pursued a murder charge against Winkler, 33, 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 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. The judge denied her request for full probation or judicial diversion, which would have eventually cleared her record of the conviction.

Her attorneys said they will talk to her about whether she wants to appeal or seek a new trial, but Farese said, “This is probably the end of a long saga.”

Prosecutors sought the maximum six-year 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.

Sexual allegations
Mary Winkler testified her husband punched her in the face, kicked her at times and refused to grant her a divorce. In presenting her claims of sexual demands she considered unnatural, the defense showed jurors a pair of tall, platform shoes and a black wig Winkler said she was pressured to wear during sex.

At her sentencing hearing, however, Winkler said, “I think of Matthew every day, and I’ll always miss him and love him.”

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.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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