SELMER – Mary Winkler referred to “stupid stuff” when a police agent asked her why she killed her minister husband, Matthew, in an audio-taped statement recorded the day after the shooting.
Prosecutors played the statement for jurors in her first-degree murder trial Friday. Then-Alabama Bureau of Investigation agent Stan Stabler questioned Winkler on the tape. Stabler now works with the Baldwin County District Attorney General’s Office.
Winkler had been taken into custody in Orange Beach, Ala., along with her three daughters. Authorities had found a shotgun in the back of her minivan. Police had been looking for them since Matthew Winkler’s body was found in his church parsonage on March 22, 2006.
“I’m battling back and forth with this why thing,” Stabler told Winkler on the tape. “I mean, you seem like such a nice person. I know something had to happen.”
“… They woke me up to come in here,” she said. ”It’s just the thought of stupid stuff.”
Stabler asked, “Like what?”
“Like schedules and this, in certain order,” Winkler responded. “Uh, I love him dearly, but gosh, he just nailed me in the ground, and uh, I was real good for a quite, uh, uh, uh, quite some time.”
Stabler was one of two witnesses prosecutors called Friday as they continued to present their proof for a second day in the case. They also called Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent Chris Carpenter.
Court will resume at 8:15 a.m. today with more witnesses for the prosecution. McNairy County Circuit Court Judge Weber McCraw does not expect the trial to go beyond the end of next week.
Winkler’s attorneys continued to build on their assertions that the shooting may have been accidental. Steve Farese asked Stabler about whether the gun could have been fired accidentally.
Stabler said he didn’t know.
“Do you have any evidence that it was not an accidental shooting?” Farese asked.
“No,” Stabler said.
Defense attorneys also questioned Stabler and Carpenter about whether they knew how much sleep Mary Winkler had had before making the statements to authorities.
Carpenter presented a report with a summarized statement from Winkler.
Defense Attorney Leslie Ballin wanted to know why it was not recorded or video taped. Carpenter said it is the TBI’s policy not to use audio and video recorders for statements but that he didn’t know why that was.
While Winkler did not verbally admit shooting her husband in her statements, Assistant District Attorney General Walter Freeland pointed to signs she did it, such as her statements about going to the closet and getting the gun and then standing on pillows on the floor and trying to balance herself as she held the weapon.
Farese explained their line of questioning to reporters following court.
“We have a plan,” Farese said. ”We have what we think is the truth, and that’s what we’re trying to show to this jury, as Leslie said, it’s a statement, it’s not a confession, the methods which they took this statement, and what her condition was at that time.”
Winkler said in her statement to Stabler that the shooting was not planned. But prosecutors believe the premeditation in their charge against her is the act of her going to the closet to get the shotgun.
Winkler admitted to Stabler that she’d thought before about killing her husband. She said he had threatened her, as well. She indicated it was the first time she’d ever fired a gun.
Winkler spoke softly in her statement to Stabler and at times was in tears on the recording. Stabler asked if Matthew Winkler had physically abused her.
“Not physically,” she responded.
“Not physically?” Stabler asked. “Okay. What about mentally? Verbally? Any kind of abuse that way?
Mary said, “No comment. I just don’t know if, just try to think this through some more myself. There’s no sense in blaming some, on somebody else…”
Her statement to Stabler revealed a strained relationship with her father, Clark Freeman. Freeman has stood by Winkler’s side since the shooting.
Right after commenting on the “schedules” in answering Stabler’s question on why the shooting happened, Winkler said, “My problem was, I got a job at the post office couple years ago and the first of our marriage, I just took it like a mouse. Didn’t think anything different.
“My Mom just took it from my Dad, and uh, that stupid scenario…,” Winkler said.
She and Freeman weren’t in touch much at the time of the shooting, Winkler indicated.
Winkler had just mentioned something on the tape about not being able to imagine their youngest daughter, then-1-year-old Brianna, not knowing Matthew Winkler.
“I’m sure it’s tough living with a situation like that, I, know,” Stabler commented.
“Even, but my Dad called,” Winkler said. “I checked the voicemail the other day, and sometimes, I just want to go through the throne phone and rip his head off. There you go, I opened up.
“And then, uh, cause I thought, I do not want him to even ever come and visit me, and I know that he’ll want to live wherever I am and visit everyday, but I am not wanting to see him,” Winkler said.
The trial continues to draw out-of-state spectators. Connie Jennings drove the 20 miles from Corinth, Miss. to Selmer Friday to sit in on day five of proceedings.
She spoke about the interest to her.
“Well, it’s just history to be honest with you,” Jennings said. “I have never been able to go to a murder trial or any type of trial because I have been teaching school, first-graders for 30 years, and now that I have retired, I’m just interested in things going (on) around in our surrounding area. As a citizen, I think it’s my duty to get involved.”