updated 9/19/2008 7:02:43 PM ET 2008-09-19T23:02:43

A woman convicted of killing her minister husband two years ago was granted permanent custody of their three young daughters Friday.

Mary Winkler was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in the 2006 death of her husband Matthew, a Church of Christ minister, and is on probation for the killing she blamed on domestic abuse.

She said Friday she has resumed a cordial relationship with the grandparents who fought to take the children away from her.

Winkler, who spent a total of seven months in jail and a mental institution, has had temporary custody of her daughters — ages 11, 9 and 3 — since August.

Judge Ron Harmon of Carroll County Chancery Court returned full custody following a brief hearing, saying he was pleased that Winkler and her former in-laws have agreed to work together for the good of the children.

Paternal grandparents Dan and Diane Winkler of Huntingdon took temporary custody of the children after their mother's arrest and went to court trying to adopt them over her objections. They accused Winkler of being an unfit mother.

After the hearing, Winkler walked across the courtroom and hugged the grandparents.

"That was not my first time to hug them today. We've been seeing each other regularly lately," Winkler said.

She limited her responses to "yes" or "no" to most questions from news reporters waiting outside the courtroom but said the grandparents have visited her and her daughters often where they live in McMinnville, about 65 miles southeast of Nashville.

"We love each other and we're getting along," she said. "We've reconciled."

Driven by abuse?
Friday's hearing was called to discuss disbursement of money in a trust fund set up for the Winkler children by well-wishers, but Harmon spent the day instead talking in private with Winkler and the grandparents about custody matters.

The trust fund hearing will be held another day, the judge said. Records on the fund are under court seal, but the discussions center on how it will be controlled. The amount of money in it has not been publicly disclosed.

Matthew Winkler, 31, was killed by a shotgun blast to the back at the residence he shared with his wife and children in Selmer, a small West Tennessee town about 80 miles east of Memphis.

Winkler, then 33, said she accidentally shot her husband with a shotgun she had intended to use to scare him after a night of arguing. She told a trial jury in Selmer that she had suffered years of emotional and physical abuse from her husband.

She drew a three-year prison sentence but was granted probation for most of it and was sent to a mental institution after sentencing for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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