SELMER, Tenn. – A young minister’s wife walked into court with her lawyers Monday for the start of her murder trial in the shotgun killing of her husband in their church parsonage.
Mary Winkler, a quiet mother of three, was met by a crowd of photographers and TV cameras as she arrived for the start of jury selection.
Authorities said Matthew Winkler, 31, minister at the Fourth Street Church of Christ in this small western Tennessee town, was struck by a single blast on March 22, 2006. His wife was arrested a day later in Orange Beach, Ala., some 340 miles from Selmer, with their three young daughters.
Police say she admitted shooting her husband, and that it had something to do with his constant criticism.
“It was just building up to this point,” Winkler said, according to a statement taken by Alabama police. “I was just tired of it. I guess I just got to a point and snapped.”
The trial could last several weeks. Because of the attention the case has drawn, the town of about 4,500 people, some 80 miles east of Memphis, had to make preparations for the horde of reporters and spectators who showed up Monday.
About 160 potential jurors crowded into the tiny courtroom. As jury selection began, Judge Weber McCraw kept reporters out of the courtroom because of the lack of space.
“We’ve had some murders in this county, but nothing this sensationalized. It kind of caught us off guard,” McNairy County Circuit Court Clerk Ronnie Brooks said.
Friends have said they can’t understand how someone as sweet and quiet as Mary Winkler could be charged with murder.
“This was a perfect family,” Judy Turner, a member of a church where Matthew Winkler was assigned before coming to Selmer.
If convicted, Winkler would be sentenced to life in prison with parole possible after 51 years.
While Winkler has been found competent to stand trial, her attorneys, Steve Farese and Leslie Ballin, have indicated they may argue that she lacked the required state of mind to commit premeditated first-degree murder.
But mostly, Farese, Ballin and prosecutors have been mum about the case.
“I’m sure it would allay a lot of people’s fears if they know the whole story, but as you know, they cannot know the whole story until we go to court,” Farese said in August when Winkler was released on $750,000 bail.
The Winklers were married in 1996. They met at Freed-Hardeman University, a Church of Christ-affiliated school in Henderson where Matthew’s father was an adjunct professor. Mary took education classes, and Matthew took Bible classes. Neither graduated.
Before moving to Selmer, Matthew Winkler taught Bible classes part-time at Boyd Christian School, a Church of Christ-affiliated school in McMinnville.