Autopsy shows Tennessee preacher was fatally shot in the back

SELMER, Tenn. – A forensic pathologist testified Monday that a small-town Tennessee preacher was killed by a shotgun blast in the middle of his back.

Staci Turner, who conducted the autopsy on Matthew Winkler’s body, said shotgun pellets fractured his spine and ribs, damaging multiple organs. Turner said she removed 77 pellets from his body.

“The aspiration of the blood indicates he did take breaths after he was shot,” Turner said. “He did receive wounds to several vital organs. I would expect him to die within minutes.”

Matthew Winkler, a 31-year-old preacher at the Fourth Street Church of Christ in Selmer, was found dead in the church parsonage March 22, 2006. One day later his wife was arrested on the Alabama coast, some 340 miles away from Selmer, driving in the family minivan with the couple’s three young daughters.

The defense has said Mary Winkler, 33, intended to hold her husband at gunpoint only to force him to talk about his personal problems after a situation involving their 1-year-old daughter, Breanna. The defense did not describe the situation.

The defense also says Mary Winkler didn’t know how to load or fire a shotgun, and that the fatal blast was accidental.

The forensic pathologist said the shotgun blast came from about 1 to 4 feet away from Matthew Winkler’s body.

As the prosecution continued its case Monday, one juror was excused because of a “clerical error,” court spokeswoman Sue Allison said, without giving any further details. “There was no impropriety. There was nothing improper,” Allison said.

Prosecutors have described Matthew Winkler as a good father and husband. But the defense has said the evidence will show he was a dictator at home who terrorized his family and criticized his wife’s every move.

Last week prosecutors played an audiotape in which Mary Winkler acknowledges shooting her husband, telling investigators her “ugly came out.”

But Mary Winkler also told an Alabama Bureau of Investigation agent on the audiotape that her husband had threatened her. “He said something that really scared me. I don’t know, something life-threatening,” she said, without elaborating further.

She said her husband criticized her for “the way I walk, what I eat, everything. It was just building up to this point. I was just tired of it. I guess I just got to a point and snapped.”

The prosecution has said the Winklers were in financial trouble that that bank managers were closing in on a check-kiting scheme that Mary Winkler wanted to conceal from her husband.

They also presented the notes from an interview in which Mary Winkler tells a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent how she shot her husband.

“I don’t remember going to the closet or getting the gun,” Winkler said, according to the notes. “The next thing I remember was hearing a loud boom, and I remember thinking it wasn’t as loud as I thought it would be.”

The trial is expected to last another week or longer. Assistant District Attorney General Walt Freeland said during his opening statement that one of Winkler’s daughters, likely 9-year-old Patricia, would testify.

Defense attorney Leslie Ballin has hinted Mary Winkler could also take the stand.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday April 16, 2007.
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