Mary Winkler’s Family Talks for the First Time About Why She Shot Her Husband
Nov. 20, 2006 — – It was a crime that stunned the nation. In March, 32-year-old Mary Winkler, a soft-spoken preacher’s wife, was charged with the murder of husband Matt, a Church of Christ minister in the small town of Selmer, Tenn.
Shocked parishioners discovered Matt’s bloodied body, riddled with a blast of bird shot, in the home the couple shared with their three daughters.
When Winkler was questioned the day after the shooting, authorities said she confessed to the crime, saying she had snapped after years of abuse.
Now out on bail, Winkler is working in a dry-cleaning shop and preparing for her trial, where she will tell her side of the story.
In an exclusive interview with “Good Morning America,” Winkler’s family said she killed her husband because she was abused.
“Physical, mental, verbal,” said Clark Freeman, Winkler’s father. “I don’t know how she took it. She’s a stronger individual than I am.”
Freeman says the abuse became more apparent the last three years of Winkler and Matt’s marriage.
“I saw bad bruises. The heaviest of makeup covering facial bruises,” Freeman said. “So one day, I confronted her. I said, ‘Mary Carol, you are coming off as a very abused wife, very battered.'”
But Freeman says she denied the accusations.
“[She] would hang her head and say, ‘No, daddy, everything’s all right. Everything’s all right.'”
Friends say Winkler didn’t talk about the abuse, but her growing fear of her husband was obvious.
“One Sunday, Mary came into the church and I looked at her and she had a black eye,” said Winkler’s friend Rudie Thomsen.
Another friend, Amy Redmon, said it was clear who was in charge in the relationship.
“He was an authority figure, and he made the decisions basically. It was obvious,” Redmon said.
Sisters Say Winkler Is More Like Her Old Self
Winkler’s sisters, Tabatha Freeman, 25, and Amanda Miller, 24, told “GMA” that she seemed caught in a difficult situation and that they weren’t sure how to respond.
“We didn’t know if it could get worse if we were to confront [it],” Miller said.
Freeman and Miller also say that Matt kept Winkler from seeing her family.
“As these years went on, she seemed to be nervous to show love towards us,” Miller said. “Now it’s back to the old Mary [who] loves us and doesn’t care to come and hug us and gives us a kiss on the cheek.”
Winkler’s attorneys say there are also indications that Matt may have sexually abused her as well.
“What went on behind their closed doors is going to have to be told,” said Winkler’s attorney Leslie Ballin. “Some of what we’ve got from the state of Tennessee touches on sexual abuse.”
What’s striking to many outsiders is how accepting and supportive the majority of the community has been to Winkler.
That sense of forgiveness, community members say, stems from the town’s Christian roots and from its tendency to give people the benefit of the doubt.
Winkler’s daughters are currently living with Matt’s parents.
“She misses her daughters, but she’s staying busy,” said Miller, of her sister. “She’s the loving Mary we used to know.”
ABC News’ Mary Fulginiti contributed to this story from Tennessee.