Agent: Preacher’s wife apologized to dying husband

‘I don’t remember … getting the gun,’ she told police

SELMER, Tennessee (CNN) — As her minister husband lay dying from a shotgun wound to the back, Mary Carol Winkler wiped the blood bubbling on his lips and apologized, according to a statement read Friday in court.

“He asked me, ‘Why?’ and I just said, ‘I’m sorry,’ ” she told police in the statement. “I told him I was sorry and I loved him.”

Winkler, a 32-year-old mother of three, gave the statement March 24, two days after prosecutors say she shot her 31-year-old husband, Matthew, in bed in the parsonage of Selmer’s Fourth Street Church of Christ.

Winkler never admitted pointing the gun or pulling the trigger in the statement, taken after her arrest in Orange Beach, Alabama, hundreds of miles from the couple’s home.

Winkler, who has been in jail since her arrest, was indicted last month on a single charge of premeditated murder to which she has pleaded not guilty.

She is asking a McNairy County judge to let her post bail and go free while she awaits trial in October. The judge, Weber McCraw, said he expected to announce his decision next week.

Friday’s hearing, which unfolded like a mini-trial before a crowded courtroom, provided details of a crime that shocked this God-fearing community of 4,500 and offered the first hint of a possible motive.

Several women, members of the Winklers’ church, passed paper tissues as they sat in the courtroom’s pew-like seats, dabbing tears from their eyes as Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent Brent Booth read from Winkler’s four-page statement.

Dressed in orange jail fatigues, Winkler sobbed as details of her husband’s autopsy report was read.

Her husband died of a shotgun wound to the back that shattered his spine and the tore through his stomach and other organs. The 12-gauge shotgun was fired from above about 2.5 to 7 feet away, the report concluded.

According to testimony, Winkler’s father would raise the bail money. A friend, Kathy Thompson, offered Winkler place to stay and arrangements have been made for her to work at a dry cleaner’s in McMinnville, Tennessee, where the Winklers lived before coming to Selmer a year ago.

‘A loud boom’

In her statement to police, Winkler said she and her husband had been married 10 years and had been having problems for the “past year, year and a half.”

She told police she had an “uneasy feeling” after she put her children to bed March 21 and her husband “started ranting about problems he was having and personal feelings about the church administration.”

She said he fell asleep and awoke the next morning when the alarm went off at about 6:45 a.m. From that point, her description of events resembles an out-of-body experience:

“I don’t remember going to the closet and getting the gun,” she told police. “The next thing I remember is hearing a loud boom,” she said, adding that it wasn’t as loud as she “thought it would be.” Her husband rolled from the bed to the floor, she said.

“I saw some blood on the floor and some bleeding around his mouth. I went over and wiped his mouth off with a sheet,” she said, according to the police report. Then, she said, “I went and ran.”

“I was scared and sad and I wanted to get out of the house,” she told police. She said she grabbed the children, but took no luggage, except for “an extra pair of socks for the baby.”

She said she drove to the beach because she knew she would only have a little time to spend with her daughters — Patricia, 8, Mary Alice, 6, and Breanna, 1.

Later, Winkler acknowledged her husband had been upset with her the previous evening because her “bad bookkeeping.”

She said the couple was having financial trouble “and most of it was my fault.” She said she had received a call from her bank that day.

‘I was tired of it’

She told police her husband “had been really on me lately. He criticized me for things, the way I walked, what I eat — everything.” She said, “I was tired of it. I guess I just got to a point and snapped.”

According to the detective’s testimony, Mary Winkler had been moving money around in several checking accounts — three in the couple’s name and one in her name only.

Defense attorneys Steve Farese and Les Ballin Winkler maintain Winkler was a victim of a complex fraud scheme.

Members of the Fourth Street Church of Christ found Matthew Winkler’s body after he didn’t show up for Wednesday night church services.

Selmer police detective Roger Rickland testified that a phone in the master bedroom had been disconnected, but he could not say by whom.

The phone was found in the middle of the bedroom floor. The phone cord and jack, which had been disconnected from the wall, were tangled in blankets beneath his body.

Rickland said that bubbles of blood and saliva had formed around Matthew Winkler’s mouth and nose.

Prosecutors argue those details provide circumstantial evidence of premeditated murder and could expose Winkler to the death penalty.

“Mary Carol Winkler left him alive, asking why,” Assistant District Attorney Walt Freeland said.

Prosecutors have not said whether they will seek the death penalty. They do not have to give formal notice of their intentions until 30 days before the trial, currently scheduled for October 30.

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CNN, USA
July 1, 2006
Ann O'Neill
www.cnn.com

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