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Jury selection in murder trial of minister’s wife

Jury selection began Monday in the trial of a Tennessee preacher's wife accused in the shotgun killing of her husband in their church parsonage.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Jury selection began Monday in the trial of a Tennessee preacher's wife accused in the shotgun killing of her husband in their church parsonage.

Mary Winkler, 33, was met by a crowd of photographers and TV cameras as she arrived for the start of jury selection.

Authorities said Matthew Winkler, 31, minister at the Fourth Street Church of Christ in this small western Tennessee town, was struck by a single blast from a shotgun on March 22, 2006. His wife was arrested a day later in Orange Beach, Alabama, some 340 miles from Selmer, with their three young daughters.

About 160 potential jurors arrived at the tiny courtroom in Selmer, a town of about 4,500 people, some 80 miles east of Memphis. Lawyers started asking them in small groups whether they knew the Winklers or had heard about the case in the media.

Court officials said the jury selection process could take up to a week. The entire trial could take several weeks.

The Winklers both grew up in conservative Churches of Christ, which believe the Bible should be interpreted literally and that baptism by immersion in water is necessary for salvation. They stand out from other conservative Southern churches by their insistence on forbidding instrumental music during services.

Matthew Winkler was hired at the 200-member church in Selmer in February 2005. His wife was a substitute teacher at an elementary school.

Police say she admitted shooting her husband, and that it had something to do with his constant criticism.

“It was just building up to this point,” Mary Winkler said, according to a statement taken by Alabama police. “I was just tired of it. I guess I just got to a point and snapped.”

But friends have said they can’t understand how someone as sweet and quiet as Mary Winkler could be charged with murder.

“This was a perfect family,” Judy Turner, a member of the Winkler’s McMinnville church, said just after Winkler was arrested.

Life sentence if convicted
If convicted, Winkler would be sentenced to life in prison with parole possible after 51 years.

While Winkler has been found competent to stand trial, her attorneys, Steve Farese and Leslie Ballin, have indicated they may argue that she lacked the required state of mind to commit premeditated first-degree murder.

But mostly, Farese, Ballin and prosecutors have been mum about the case.

“I’m sure it would allay a lot of people’s fears if they know the whole story, but as you know, they cannot know the whole story until we go to court,” Farese said in August when Winkler was released on $750,000 bail.

The Winklers were married in 1996. They met at Freed-Hardeman University, a Church of Christ-affiliated school in Henderson where Matthew’s father was an adjunct professor. Mary took education classes, and Matthew took Bible classes. Neither graduated.

Before moving to Selmer, Matthew Winkler taught Bible classes part-time at Boyd Christian School, a Church of Christ-affiliated school in McMinnville.

Because of the attention the case has drawn, officials in the town of about 4,500 people, about 80 miles east of Memphis, said they were preparing for a horde of reporters and spectators.

“We’re just anticipating,” McNairy County Circuit Court Clerk Ronnie Brooks said. “We’ve had some murders in this county, but nothing this sensationalized. It kind of caught us off guard.”