Mary Winkler: Preacher’s widow pleads not guilty

Mary Winkler charged with murder; hearing set for June 30

(CNN) — A minister’s wife pleaded not guilty Wednesday to a charge she shot him to death in the parsonage of a small town Tennessee church.

Mary Winkler, 32, wore orange jail coveralls and handcuffs in the courtroom. She dabbed at her nose with a tissue but said nothing during the brief arraignment.

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A grand jury in McNairy County, Tennessee, indicted Winkler on Monday, charging her with a single count of first-degree, premeditated murder in the March 22 shooting death of husband Matthew Winkler. He was the minister at Fourth Street Church of Christ in Selmer, Tennessee, about 80 miles east of Memphis.

Mary Winkler’s trial was set for October 30, but first she will return to court June 30 for a bond hearing. She has been in custody since the day after her husband’s body was found.

Church members discovered Matthew Winkler’s body after he failed to show up for midweek services. Entering the parsonage when no one answered the door, they found him dead in the bedroom, shot in the back.

An Amber Alert was issued for the preacher’s wife and daughters. She was taken into custody the next day on the Alabama coast with the couple’s three young daughters — Patricia, 8, Mary Alice, 6, and Breanna, 1.

Police in Alabama said Mary Winkler confessed to planning her husband’s murder and to shooting him. A motive in the slaying, however, has not been disclosed publicly.

Her attorneys described Winkler as “pretty fragile” at an earlier hearing. But defense attorney Steve Farese told CNN earlier this week she is “doing much better … has opened up tremendously.”

She wants to see her children, who are in the custody of Matthew Winkler’s parents, said Farese. He added he has been unable to get a response from them.

Farese said the slaying was not premeditated.

“It’s a culmination of events that led to a tragic set of circumstances,” he said. He would not comment on attorneys’ defense strategy, or on a motive, except to say infidelity did not play a role.

“It’s not going to be any one issue,” he said. “The issue is not clear-cut.”

Asked why Winkler fled to Orange Beach, Alabama, Farese said she had no connection there. “It was a destination,” he said.

Winkler’s defense team requested a psychological examination, which was completed in early April.

CNN’s Susan Candiotti contributed to this story.

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June 15, 2006

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