During the 10 years she was married to a handsome young preacher, Mary Winkler said she never told anyone about the bruises and the sexual humiliation she endured.
But the preacher’s wife accused of killing her husband took the witness stand this week and dredged up every embarrassing detail, talking about the abuse in front of TV cameras and family members.
That risky decision to testify, her lawyers said, had a powerful effect on the jury and probably explains why Winkler will not spend the rest of her life in prison.
A jury found Winkler guilty of voluntary manslaughter Thursday after eight hours of deliberation. The prosecution had sought a conviction for first-degree murder, a far more serious offense.
“They had to hear it from Mary; there was no other source,” defense attorney Steve Farese said after the verdict.
Winkler told jurors, in powerful testimony Wednesday, that her husband Matthew abused her physically and sexually. But she said she did not pull the trigger and the shotgun went off accidentally as she pointed it at him.
Faces 3-6 years
Because Winkler has no prior convictions, she faces a sentence of three to six years in prison. She would be eligible for parole after serving a third of the sentence and will receive credit for the five months she already spent in jail.
If Winkler, 33, had been convicted of first- or second-degree murder, she would have gone to prison for at least 12 years and maybe for the rest of her life.
Matthew Winkler, a 31-year-old preacher at the Fourth Street Church of Christ, was found in the church parsonage fatally shot in his back in March 2006. One day later, his wife was arrested on the Alabama coast, driving the family minivan with their three young daughters.
The prosecution said it was ludicrous to suggest the shooting was an accident and denied that Matthew Winkler was an abusive husband. Assistant District Attorney General Walt Freeland said bank managers were closing in on a check-kiting scheme that Mary Winkler wanted to conceal.
Witnesses described Matthew Winkler as a good husband and father, and the couple’s 9-year-old daughter testified she never saw her father mistreat her mother. Mary Winkler also said under cross-examination that her husband did nothing for which he deserved to die.
“At the end of the day, we’re left with the memory of Matthew Winkler,” said defense attorney Leslie Ballin. “And even though there have been a lot of negative things said about him in this trial, there were some good things, too, and you heard that from Mary.”
Mary Winkler showed no emotion as the verdict was read, but later hugged her family and her attorneys.
Daughters with husband's parents
Matthew Winkler’s father Dan Winkler, who is also a preacher at a Church of Christ in Huntingdon, thanked the jury and thanked God for being “our rock and our shield” during the trial.
The couple’s three daughters — ages 2, 7 and 9 — are in the custody of Matthew Winkler’s parents, but the defense attorneys said Mary Winkler hopes the verdict will allow her to be reunited with her daughters in the future. Dan and Diane Winkler have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Mary Winkler.
She will be sentenced May 18, but is free on bond until then. She will continue living with friends in McMinnville, about 65 miles southeast of Nashville.
Voluntary manslaughter suggests the crime was committed in an irrational state and premeditation is not necessary for a conviction.
The jury of two men and 10 women, who were sequestered in a motel without television, cell phones or computers during the trial, declined to comment after reaching a verdict.