Mary Winkler‘s attorneys say they’re working to reunite her with her children as quickly as possible following an appeals court ruling on Tuesday that removed a barrier to her having supervised visits with them.
Attorneys Kay Turner and Rachael Putnam said Mary Winkler was overjoyed to learn that the court ruled to allow her visits while she tries to regain custody of her children.
Winkler was convicted earlier this year of voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of her minister husband, Matthew Winkler. She is in a custody fight with Matthew Winkler’s parents, Dan and Diane Winkler, for her three daughters.
“We’re looking forward to setting up some parenting time immediately,” Turner said.
A Carroll County judge ruled in September that Mary Winkler could begin visits with her three young daughters, but the children’s paternal grandparents appealed that order.
The Court of Appeals temporarily blocked the visits while considering the grandparents’ request.
The grandparents have had custody of the children – ages 2, 8 and 9 – since Mary Winkler was arrested in March 2006 for the death of her husband.
The Winklers believed that irreparable harm would be done to the children if the Court of Appeals did not intervene, according to Bill Neese, a former attorney for the grandparents.
In a phone interview Tuesday, Neese said Dan and Diane Winkler have retained new legal representation from the Stites Harbison law firm in Nashville.
A message left for the Winklers’ new attorney, Gregory Smith, was not immediately returned Tuesday night.
There’s one possibility left for the grandparents to fight Mary Winkler on visitation with the children, according to Turner.
“The only option is to take it to a higher court, the Supreme Court of Tennessee for an appeal,” Turner said.
The attorneys said they are fighting for Mary Winkler’s rights as a parent.
“Mary voluntarily decided to place the children with them (the grandparents) until her release,” Putnam said. ”There was no permanent relinquishment of her parental rights. She let the children go with their paternal grandparents because they had a closer relationship with them. But now they have wrongly withheld them (from her).”
Dan and Diane Winkler have a pending case in which they’ve asked a court to end Mary Winkler’s parental rights so that they can adopt the girls. They also have filed a $2 million wrongful death lawsuit against her for the death of their son.
Mary Winkler was initially was charged with first-degree murder but was convicted in April of the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter for the shotgun slaying of Matthew Winkler. He was a pulpit preacher at Fourth Street Church of Christ in Selmer.
Mary Winkler spent about five months in jail and about two months receiving mental health treatment in a group home after her conviction. She is on probation for the next three years and now lives and works in Warren County.
Mary Winkler has said she hasn’t seen her children since September 2006 and last spoke with them in January.
“A biological parent has superior rights to be with their children over all others,” Turner said. “The constitution of the United States protects people from having this drastic measure of having their children taken from them.”
And if children are removed, Putnam said “the proof must be clear and convincing.”
The Winklers have previously expressed concerns for their three granddaughters.
They fear Mary Winkler’s post traumatic stress disorder and dissociative episode or break from reality that she experienced in her husband’s shooting could happen again.
However, Mary Winkler’s supporters have said she knows how to deal with such episodes now.
“I want to express gratitude on behalf of Mary for the continuous support from people across the country,” Putnam said. “She’s trying to be a parent to her three girls.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.