SELMER, Tenn. â€” A preacher’s wife testified at her murder trial Wednesday that her husband abused her physically and sexually, but she said the shotgun fired accidentally as she pointed it at him in their parsonage bedroom.
Mary Winkler heard a “boom” but said she did not pull the trigger, prompting prosecutor Walt Freeland to ask her later whether she understood how a trigger worked.
“You know that pulling a trigger is what makes it go boom?” Freeland asked on the final day of testimony.
“Yes, sir,” Mary Winkler replied. She said she remembered holding the gun but not getting it from the closet.
She said that she just wanted to talk to her husband, Matthew, when she went into their bedroom that day in March 2006, but that she was too terrified. “He just could be so mean,” she said.
But, she told Freeland, her husband did “nothing” for which he deserved to die.
Her depiction of her marriage contrasts radically with the description by the prosecution, whose witnesses described Matthew Winkler as a good father and husband. The couple’s 9-year-old daughter, Patricia, testified that she had a good father and that she never saw him mistreat her mother.
Matthew Winkler, 31, was fatally shot in his back. A day later, his wife was arrested 340 miles away on the Alabama coast, driving the family minivan with her three young daughters inside.
Mary Winkler said she planned to return to Selmer but wanted time alone with her daughters. “All I knew was that the stupid gun had went off, and nobody would believe me and they would just take my girls away from me,” she said.
Mary Winkler said that despite being abused, she still loved her husband.
“I was ashamed,” she said, explaining why she told no one of the abuse. “I didn’t want anybody to know about Matthew.”
Mary Winkler testified her husband punched her in the face, kicked her at times and refused to grant her a divorce. Shortly after they were married, “he just got me down and told me that I was his wife and we were family now, and he just screamed and hollered,” she testified.
Said defense attorney Steve Farese: “If you look up spousal abuse in the dictionary, you’re going to see Mary Winkler’s picture looking back at you.”
But the prosecution said in closing arguments that there was no medical evidence of abuse.
“He was a good daddy who didn’t abuse anybody,” Freeland said. “He didn’t abuse his little girl. He didn’t abuse Mary.”
Speaking about their sex life, Mary Winkler spoke quietly and hesitantly, with eyes downcast. She said her husband forced her to view pornography, dress “slutty” and have sex she considered unnatural.
The defense showed the jury a pair of white platform-heel shoes and a wig Mary Winkler said her husband wanted her to wear during sex. She described a skirt he wanted her to wear as “very, very short.” Pornographic photos she identified as coming from their home computer were entered as evidence.
In his closing argument, Farese said the prosecution “absolutely, positively” did not prove Mary Winkler intended to kill her husband, something required for a conviction of first-degree murder. But Farese left open the possibility that she could have been guilty of a lesser crime.
“Have they proven any crime? Well â€” and this is hard for me to say â€” maybe,” Farese said.
If convicted of first-degree murder, Mary Winkler could be sentenced to as many as 60 years in prison.
A psychologist testified Mary Winkler could not have formed the intent to commit a crime because of her compromised mental condition. She suffered from mild depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, which started at age 13 when her sister died and was worsened by her husband’s abuse, Dr. Lynn Zager said.
The jury will begin deliberating Thursday, the judge said.
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