A judge has denied Mary Winkler ‘s request to suppress statements she gave authorities and evidence police seized from her van in connection with the shooting death of her minister husband. Judge Weber McCraw did, however, grant Winkler’s request to have her trial date postponed from Oct. 30.
Winkler is charged with first-degree murder in the case and is presently free on a $750,000 bond. Her husband, Matthew Winkler, was a minister at Selmer’s Fourth Street Church of Christ. He died from a single shotgun blast to his back.
Defense lawyers filed a motion Friday asking that the trial be set during the February term of court. But McCraw did not set a date in the order he filed late Tuesday.
Steve Farese Sr., one of Mary Winkler’s attorney’s, said Tuesday he was not surprised by the judge’s ruling.
“It’s certainly not uncommon for the defense to file suppression motions and to be overruled,” Farese said. “They’re probably the most commonly filed motions and the least granted motions.
“If this motion had been granted, it would have decimated the prosecution’s case,” Farese said.
He was asked about the effect of the ruling on the defense’s case.
“Certainly, it’s going to make our defense more difficult,” Farese said.
Farese was not certain if defense lawyers would appeal the ruling. He said he was not certain whether Leslie Ballin, another attorney for Mary Winkler, had seen McCraw’s order.
Ballin is tied up in a murder trial that started Monday.
Farese said he’d have to wait until Ballin finished with his trial to get with him on the order. Farese expected they would decide within the next few days whether to take further action and whether there is any further action available to them.
McCraw reviewed testimony from an Aug. 9 hearing and the video tape of the initial traffic stop in deciding four factors outlined in his order denying the motion to suppress. He determined that:
The initial stop of Mary Winkler’s van was proper.
The authorities’ detention of her was lawful.
Statements she gave police were in accordance “with proper procedures protecting” her Fifth Amendment rights.
The consent she gave to search her vehicle “was freely and voluntarily given.
“Therefore, defendant’s motion to suppress her statements to both Alabama and Tennessee law enforcement officials and the weapon found in her automobile is hereby, denied,” McCraw wrote in the order.
Police recovered the shotgun authorities believe to be the murder weapon and a towel authorities said appeared to be stained with blood from the Winkler van after she was stopped in Orange Beach, Ala.
The stain had not been tested at the time of the Aug. 9 hearing.
Authorities have said that in statements she made in Alabama Mary Winkler admitted shooting Matthew Winkler the morning after she and her husband argued over finances.
In their motion, lawyers argued that police had no legal authority to use Mary Winkler’s cell phone records to track her physical location and that any evidence gained because of that must be suppressed. Lawyers had also argued that police took Mary Winkler into custody and detained her without cause.
Farese said Aug. 9 that the statement Mary Winkler gave the Alabama Bureau of Investigation led to the Tennessee arrest warrant.
On Friday, Farese said that after McCraw decided on the motion to continue, that defense attorneys would then seek a court date for a motion to suppress evidence seized from the church parsonage where the Winklers lived.
Police did not have a search warrant for the house, Farese said.
Farese said Tuesday that he believes defense lawyers will go ahead and ask for a hearing date for that motion but was not sure when they’d do that.
He said Friday the motion to continue was filed because there is more discovery evidence to review from prosecutors and because attorneys want time to discuss the case with newly elected District Attorney General Michael Dunavant.
The former prosecutor, Elizabeth Rice, retired Sept. 1 after 37 years of work with the state. She spent 29 of those years in the district attorney general’s office and served two eight-year terms as district attorney general in the 25th Judicial District.
Dunavant said Tuesday of McCraw’s ruling: “Obviously, we agree with it. We’re ready to move forward on the case.”