The prosecution has a clear, simple path it wants to take in seeking a murder conviction against Mary Winkler. In basic terms: follow the money.
Winkler’s defense team has several options, and at least one law professor isn’t quite sure where things are going as the trial hits its second week.
“It’s a little unclear what the defense wants to do,” Vanderbilt criminal law professor Nita Farahany said after opening arguments by defense lawyer Steve Farese Sr. and assistant district attorney Walt Freeland.
“There’s the battered women’s syndrome testimony that has surfaced, and then came the claim (in opening arguments) that the murder wasn’t premediated and that the gun went off (accidentally),” she said.
Farahany said the two might appear to be at cross-purposes because “usually if there is an abusive kind of claim, it is made when the murder is premeditated. A woman is threatened, and she responds to the threat.”
Jackson defense attorney Mark Donahoe said, however, “it’s not as uncommon as you might think to defend a case with alternate theories,” though he added he was “a little surprised” at the accidental shooting defense.
He added that it will make testimony over physical evidence far more important as the trial continues.
“Things like the angles of shots and entry wounds will be of much more importance as the defense seeks to contest whether or not the shooting was intentional,” Donahoe said. “Before, we thought those types of things wouldn’t be contested.”
Both Farahany and Donahoe said the prosecution in the Winkler trial is taking a much simpler path by focusing on the money problems that they say were going to come to a head the day after the murder.
“The prosecution is painting the picture that if Mary didn’t do something drastic, she would have to take Matthew to the bank to face the music for this Nigerian check scheme,” said Farahany.
She said that “every prosecutor hopes that financial matters will be a possible motive. It makes it much easier.”
Donahoe added, “with financial problems, you can lay out a paper trail that is usually fairly easily tracked.”
Farahany said the defense would try to deal with the financial arguments, by “painting a picture of a meek-mannered, controlled woman who couldn’t possibly execute a carefully elaborate financial scheme, or choose to murder her husband in deliberate, premeditated fashion.”
Donahoe said much of the first couple of days, “the prosecution is doing what they’re required to do. They’re filling in all the little details of who arrived when and what was done establishing the crime scene and going into some of the physical evidence.
“They’ll hit more of the emotional side next week,” he said.
Another key moment in the upcoming days of testimony could be the prosecution putting the Winklers’ oldest daughter on the stand to talk about the events of the morning of the murder.
“It’s one of those situations where they would do it to corroborate where people were, and the events after the murder,” Donahoe said. “You go very slowly, and you keep to simple details. Anything beyond that, the judge likely won’t allow.”
There were some early details that didn’t seem to fit a murder trial, like defense attorney Steve Farese Sr. sparring with Matthew Winkler’s father Dan over the lack of visitations given to Mary Winkler to see her daughters since October.
John Meyers, a retired Ohio prosecutor who was observing the trial earlier this week, says those who wonder about seeming tangents in testimony just need to be patient.
“Most every road an attorney takes in a case like this is trying to set up a piece of the closing arguments,” he said. “Everything will be answered then.”