Five days after the shooting death of Selmer minister Matthew Winkler, his wife, Mary Winkler, was formerly arraigned Monday on the charge of first degree murder in McNairy County General Sessions Court.
Thirty-one-year-old Matthew Winkler, minister of Selmer’s Fourth Street Church of Christ, was found shot to death in his home on the evening of March 22 by church members after failing to show up for Wednesday night services. He was the son of Huntingdon Church of Christ minister Dan Winkler and his wife, Diane, who have taken custody of their three granddaughters since the mother’s arrest.
Funeral services for Matthew Winkler were held Tuesday morning at the church in Selmer, and he was buried later that afternoon at Carroll Memorial Gardens in Carroll County.
Mary Winkler entered the courtroom shackled and dressed in orange prison attire with her head down and left hand gripped tightly to that of Steve Farese, one of several attorneys representing her in this case.
“No, sir,” were her only words to General Sessions/Juvenile Court Judge Bob Gray, who asked her if she needed any further explanation of her rights and the charges levied against her.
Though, according to investigating officers, Mrs. Winkler confessed to killing her husband after her arrest, she chose not to submit a plea at the arraignment, so the judge entered a plea of not guilty on her behalf.
The judge was planning to set bail, as well, but after conferring with attorneys for both the defense and prosecution at his bench, it was generally agreed that the matter of bail would be postponed until the preliminary hearing. That hearing was set for Thursday, March 30, at 9 a.m., at which time Gray said he will address the matter of bail and decide whether or not to bind the case over to the Grand Jury.
Representing the state were 25th Judicial District Attorney Elizabeth Rice and co-council Van McMahan. In addition to Farese, his son, Steve Farese, Jr., Memphis attorney Leslie Ballin and Mark Garner of Atlanta are representing Mrs. Winkler.
After the arraignment, Rice spoke to the press, offering her condolences to the family, congregation and community. She did not, however, divulge any information regarding the evidence against Mrs. Winkler, nor would she tell anything about the establishment of a motive in the case.
“All evidence will be presented at the appropriate time,” said Rice repeatedly. Attorneys for the defense were a little more vocal, though evasive and indistinct regarding the particulars of the case.
“The issue is whether or not she [Mrs. Winkler] can get a fair trial,” said Ballin when asked whether or not they would seek a change of venue. When asked if an insanity plea would be part of the defense, Ballin said, “State of mind is always an issue in a case like this.”
In regards to motive, Farese said, “I’m not aware of any motive, and if I was aware of a motive, I certainly wouldn’t be discussing it now.”
According to Roger Rickman, criminal investigator with the Selmer Police Department, all the evidence in the case has been submitted, though he wouldn’t offer any details as to what that evidence consists of. Rickman added the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the West Tennessee Drug and Violent Crime Task Force also helped with the investigation.
After Matthew Winkler was found dead in a bedroom of the family’s residence and church parsonage at 174 Mollie Drive – not far from where Mrs. Winkler was employed as a substitute teacher at Selmer Elementary School – an Amber Alert was issued and a nationwide search conducted for Mrs. Winkler and their three girls: one-year-old Breanna, six-year-old Mary Alice, and eight-year-old Patricia.
The mother and children were found that next night (Thursday, March 23) at around 7:30 p.m. approximately 340 miles south of Selmer in Orange Beach, Alabama. According to Greg Duck, assistant chief of the Orange Beach Police Department, one of his officers pulled over the family minivan because it fit the description given on the Amber Alert. Apparently, Mrs. Winkler had just rented a room for the four of them at a Sleep Inn, and they were headed to a nearby Waffle House when they were pulled over.
Mrs. Winkler was taken into custody, questioned by the OBPD and Alabama Bureau of Investigation, and held in detention for a night. As Mrs. Winkler did not resist extradition, she was transported back to Tennessee over the weekend.
The children were taken in for the night by a local human resources agency, but the girls’ paternal grandparents arrived in Orange Beach on Friday and took custody of all three.
According to John Mehr, special agent with the TBI, the girls were present in the house when their father was shot. Mehr also said that the murder weapon has been identified.