Mary Carol Winkler, a native of Knoxville, attended Freed-Hardeman University, a Church of Christ-affiliated school in Henderson, where she met fellow student Matthew Winkler.
They were married on April 20, 1996, in the backyard of her home in a service officiated by her father, Clark Freeman, a deacon at the Laurel Church of Christ. Her mother, Mary Nell, died in 1999 at age 56.
Mary, 33, had just started working as a substitute teacher at Selmer Elementary School when she shot her husband last March 22 following an argument over family finances.
Their three daughters — Patricia, 9, Mary Alice, 7, and Breanna, 1 — have been placed in the custody of Matthew Winkler’s parents, who live in Huntingdon, Tenn.
Free on $750,000 bond, she lives with friends and works at Cleaners Express in McMinnville.
Matthew Brian Winkler was born in Fort Worth, Texas, and grew up in Decatur, Ala., where he was a high school football star.
Matthew followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather and became a preacher in the Church of Christ, ministering at churches in Nashville, McMinnville and, for the last 13 months of his life, at Selmer’s 250-member Fourth Street Church of Christ.
Many knew the 31-year-old preacher as ‘Wink.’ He is buried in Carroll County Memorial Gardens in Huntingdon, about 70 miles north of Selmer.
Circuit Court Judge J. Weber McCraw spent 14 years as a General Sessions judge and six years of private practice before he was appointed in January 2005 to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood.
The other two finalists for the appointment were Mike Dunavant and J. Walter Freeland Jr., who are now prosecuting the Winkler case.
McCraw is a cum laude business administration graduate of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and earned his law degree from the University of Memphis in 1984.
McCraw, 47, who is from Braden, also has been a juvenile court judge and a city court judge for several municipalities in Fayette and Tipton counties.
After his appointment to the Circuit Court bench, he told The Memphis Daily News that his advice to lawyers appearing in his courtroom would be: “To be prepared, to be fair in your ways and to have fun.”
His family’s C. T. McCraw & Co. General Merchants and Cotton Buyers general store was a landmark for more than 100 years in Braden in northwest Fayette County.
District Attorney General Mike Dunavant of Ripley, Tenn., was a criminal defense lawyer for 11 years in Lauderdale and Tipton counties before winning the election over two opponents last August to replace retiring District Attorney General Elizabeth Rice of Somerville.
He’s learning on the job because he has no experience on the prosecution side of the courtroom.
Dunavant, who often wears a badge and a gun, also has the highly publicized case involving two teens charged in the January murder of Tennessee state trooper Calvin Wayne Jenks in Tipton County.
The 36-year-old Dunavant is a 1992 graduate of the University of Tennessee and earned his law degree three years later from the University of Mississippi.
He also is former city attorney for the towns of Henning and Halls and worked as a contract public defender for the Lauderdale County Juvenile Court from 1996 to 2004.
Assistant District Attorney General James Walter Freeland Jr. of Covington has handled more than 200 jury trials since becoming a prosecutor in 1992 for the five-county 25th Judicial District.
Freeland, 53, has a political science degree from the University of the South, where he graduated summa cum laude in 1975. His law degree is from the University of Tennessee, where he ranked second in his class of 80.
For 14 years he was in civil practice in Somerville where, as he once said, his typical client was “anyone who walked in the door.”
His many criminal prosecutions include a highly publicized three-defendant case in which 63-year-old Barbara Ann Lee was carjacked in Collierville in June 1999 and taken to a rural area in Fayette County where she was run over and killed by her own vehicle.
In 2005, Freeland also successfully prosecuted former McNairy County Sheriff Tommy Riley for allowing a female prisoner to escape from jail because she was pregnant with a jailer’s child.
His father, James Walter ‘Jimmy’ Freeland who died in 2001 at age 80, was a prominent banker, civic leader and city official in Somerville.
Although his office is in tiny Ashland, Miss., defense attorney Steve Farese has a big-time law practice, much of it in Tennessee, that has included numerous high-profile criminal cases involving pilots, movie stars, cops, politicians and white-collar defendants.
He signed on as Mary Winkler’s pro bono defense attorney as a favor to a longtime friend in Memphis who also is Winkler’s second cousin.
Farese soon was on national television talk shows, including Nancy Grace and Larry King Live, urging viewers not to judge his client without the facts.
Farese, 57, a graduate of the University of Mississippi, comes from a family of lawyers, including his late father John B. Farese who started the law firm nearly 70 years ago.
The seven-attorney firm of Farese, Farese & Farese includes six practicing Fareses.
Defense attorney Leslie Ballin is a member of a high-volume firm headed by Memphis criminal defense bar icon Marvin Ballin who has been practicing for more than 40 years.
The affable 54-year-old Leslie Ballin has teamed with Farese in a number of big-publicity cases, perhaps most notably a FedEx pilot in Memphis accused of murdering his wife in 1991.
After a seven-day trial and an acquittal in just one hour, Ballin and Farese — who are known for their ability to connect with jurors — became known as “the Dream Team” by both admiring and cynical colleagues alike.
Ballin is a graduate of the University of Texas and of the University of Memphis law school. In 2004, his son, Blake, joined the six-member firm of Ballin, Ballin & Fishman where his father and grandfather strive daily to find humor is a business filled with sad stories
A favorite saying around the office: “In God we trust. Everyone else pays cash.”
Defense attorney Marc N. Garber of Marietta, Ga., is a former federal prosecutor whose private practice focuses on criminal defense, government investigations and whistleblower litigation under federal and state law.
His role in the Winkler case has been drafting motions, which he will continue to do throughout the trial.
Garber has a degree in economics from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in 1982 and received his law degree from the University at Buffalo where he graduated cum laude in 1985.
Selmer, Tenn., population 4,600, is the seat of McNairy County, one of five counties that make up the 25th Judicial District.
Selmer is 90 miles east of Memphis and about 15 miles north of the Mississippi state line. Its motto is “Centered in History — Looking to the Future.”
Buford Pusser, the famed “Walking Tall” sheriff of McNairy County, had an office in Selmer. He died in a car crash in 1974 in nearby Adamsville, the site of his home and the Sheriff Buford Pusser Museum.
The 250-member Fourth Street Church of Christ where Matthew Winkler was the pulpit preacher is one of some 27 churches in Selmer, including three other Church of Christ congregations.
The Winkler family lived in the church parsonage at 174 Mollie Drive in a wooded residential neighborhood about a mile from the church. Matthew had been preacher at the church for 13 months.
Preachers in the Church of Christ are also called ministers or evangelists.
The individual churches are autonomous and are not affiliated with a central headquarters or convention.
Members believe the Bible is divinely inspired and infallible.