Prosecution rests with 9-year-old’s heartbreaking testimony

SELMER, Tenn. – Prosecutors rested their case against a preacher’s wife accused of murdering her husband with the heartbreaking testimony of the couple’s 9-year-old daughter.

Patricia Winkler took the stand Monday in a crowded courtroom. When the prosecutor asked the girl to state her name and birthdate, she looked over at her mother, Mary Winkler, and began sobbing.

But a few minutes later, Patricia kept her composure as she recalled how she heard a “big boom” come from her parents’ room on the morning that her father was shot.

“It seemed like somebody fell on the ground,” Patricia told the jury. “I went to mama and daddy’s room to see what had happened. I saw daddy laying on the floor face down.”

After four days of testimony from the prosecution, the defense began calling witnesses Tuesday, starting with a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation forensic scientist who talked about gathering evidence at the crime scene.

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

Matthew Winkler, a 31-year-old preacher at the Fourth Street Church of Christ in this west Tennessee town, was found dead in the parsonage where the family lived in March 2006. A day later, Mary Winkler was arrested on the Alabama coast 340 miles away, driving in the family minivan with Patricia and her two younger sisters.

Prosecution witnesses have described Matthew as a good father and husband. But Mary Winkler’s attorneys have said he was a dictator at home who terrorized his family and criticized his wife’s every move.

Patricia testified he was a good father and she never saw him mistreat her mother. Later, under questioning from a defense attorney, the girl burst into tears after trying to explain why – after one visit – she stopped seeing her mother following Mary Winkler’s release from jail.

“Because I didn’t want to see her,” Patricia said. After a long pause she added, “Well, I mean, I still love her,” and started crying again, burying her face in her hands. Mary Winkler and several members of the jury also wept.

Defense attorney Steve Farese went to the witness stand to comfort Patricia and didn’t ask any more questions.

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 tape that her husband had threatened her.

She told Tennessee authorities that 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.”

Brandy Jones, who described Mary Winkler as her best friend, said Monday she never saw any evidence of physical or emotional abuse. She had dinner with the Winklers a month before Matthew was shot, and the couple seemed happy, Jones said.

“She did state she was happier than she had ever been, and that they would never leave west Tennessee,” Jones testified.

Earlier Monday, a forensic pathologist testified that Matthew Winkler was killed by a shotgun blast in the middle of his back; 77 pellets were removed from his body

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.

Defense attorneys have also called the shooting accidental.

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

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Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday April 17, 2007.
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