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Slain minister mourned in Tenn. funeral

Pall bearers remove the casket bearing the body of pastor Matthew Winkler from the hearse to carry it into the church for his funeral service in Selmer, Tenn. on Tuesday.
Pall bearers remove the casket bearing the body of pastor Matthew Winkler from the hearse to carry it into the church for his funeral service in Selmer, Tenn. on Tuesday.Rogelio Solis / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The young daughters of a slain minister followed his flower-covered casket into a church Tuesday as hundreds of mourners gathered for his funeral.

Matthew Winkler, 31, had led the Fourth Street Church of Christ in this small western Tennessee town for almost a year until last week, when authorities say his wife shot him and fled the state with their children.

Church members discovered the minister’s body in the parsonage last Wednesday after he didn’t show up for an evening service. His wife and children were found in Alabama the following day, and the children are now living with Winkler’s parents.

Mary Winkler, 32, is jailed on charges of first-degree murder. Authorities say she confessed to shooting her husband but they haven’t revealed a motive.

The news media were not allowed inside the church, but those who attended the service said the minister was eulogized as a devoted husband and father.

Barbara Letson of Decatur, Ala., said Eddie Thompson, one of two people leading the service, didn’t mention Mary Winkler by name or describe what happened.

“He just said, we’re puzzled. That’s the word he used: puzzled,” Letson said.

Thompson spoke with reporters after the service about the couple’s three daughters, saying the girls — Breanna, 1; Mary Alice, 6; and Patricia, 8 — are adjusting.

“They’re having peaks and valleys, but by and large they’re incredibly happy,” Thompson said. “We love these girls dearly.”

Police Chief Neal Burks had described the scene as the Winklers’ daughters followed the casket inside and about 500 people filled the sanctuary or watched on TV monitors in the basement.

Church members have said they saw nothing but a loving relationship between Matthew Winkler, a third-generation minister described as outgoing and full of charisma, and Mary Winkler, described as reserved but kind.

Bail decision delayed
On Monday, Mary Winkler appeared in court in an orange jail uniform and was arraigned on charges she killed her husband.

Mary Winkler at her arraignment.

Winkler, 32, wore shackles and clutched her attorney’s hand as she was escorted into the courtroom. She did not enter a plea. Her only words were “no, sir” when the judge asked if she had any questions after he read the complaint against her and explained her rights.

She is “very confused and overwhelmed” by what’s happening, her lawyer told NBC News on Tuesday.

Winkler is “very detached, very detached from the gravity of the overall situation, very reserved, very quiet, very confused and overwhelmed,” Steve Forese said on the “Today” show.

General Sessions Court Judge Bob Gray delayed a decision on bail until a preliminary hearing, set for Thursday.

Authorities have said Mary Winkler confessed to killing her husband on Wednesday and then leaving town with their three young daughters, though officials have not suggested a motive for the attack. The minister was found dead that night in the church parsonage.

Mary Winkler was apprehended late Thursday in Orange Beach, Ala., after authorities issued an Amber alert for the children, who are now in the custody of their grandparents.

Defense attorney Leslie Ballin declined to answer questions about Mary Winkler’s state of mind but said the defense might order a psychological exam later.

Motive remains unclear
Farese said investigators had not disclosed to him what motive, if any, Mary Winkler had given them.

Asked if the couple had marital problems, Farese said, “Have you ever been in a relationship? They all have some problems.”

Prosecutor Elizabeth Rice fended off questions from reporters, saying all the evidence would be presented in court later.

One front row in the small courtroom Monday was filled with members of the Winklers’ church, all women. Several sobbed and dabbed their eyes with tissues.

“It hurts us very much, but we’re going to stand behind her 100 percent,” church member Anita Whirley said after the hearing.

The defendant’s father was escorted from the courtroom by a sheriff’s deputy.

Clark Freeman declined to answer reporters’ questions except to say that his daughter was doing “as well as she can.”