Thanks to the generosity of folks in McMinnville, Tenn., Mary Winkler has created an enviable home life. After serving just 155 days for the shotgun killing of her preacher husband, Matthew, last year, she has an SUV and free groceries and resides in a five-bedroom house, for which she pays a friend $150 a month. With three of the bedrooms done in girlish decor, the only thing missing is daughters Patricia, 10, Allie, 8, and Brianna, 2, whom Mary hasn't seen since January. "We should be together," Mary said at a recent custody hearing, "because we need to talk this out."

In the end a state official half-agreed with her. Chancellor Ron Harmon ruled that Mary be granted supervised visits with her daughters, who have been living with Matthew's parents, and be allowed to talk to them by phone every other day. That part of the Sept. 19 decision was a victory for Winkler, 33, who claimed she killed her husband during a blackout after years of psychological and physical abuse. It was also a blow to her in-laws, who have opposed her having any contact with the girls. But Harmon stopped short of granting Mary custody, evidently on the grounds that she might still pose a danger to them. Said Harmon: "I think there is some reason for concern."

In his testimony, Matthew's father, Dan Winkler, maintained that after prior visits with their mother, the girls would have "nightmares." A psychologist called by Dan and wife Diane's legal team testified that Patricia had told him, "She killed my father. I don't know if she will kill me."

Mary, who now takes medicine for depression and anxiety and who dated a man for a few months before ending the relationship in August, downplayed any dangers to her children. "I, on my own free will, seek counseling and mental help," she said. One of her experts, who reviewed counseling records of the daughters, said the girls had expressed a desire to see their mother. Chancellor Harmon will likely wait to see how the limited contact goes before ruling on custody. Meanwhile, Dan, 55, and Diane Winkler, 56, have filed to have Mary's parental rights terminated and to adopt the girls themselves—meaning the day may be a long way off before Mary and her in-laws, as she put it, "can sit down and work this out."

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