Preacher's Wife Found Guilty of Manslaughter
Winkler, 33, stood and held hands with her two attorneys before the verdict. Her family members, sitting in the row behind her, linked arms. Winkler showed no emotion as the verdict was read in a Selmer, Tenn., courtroom, but afterwards she embraced each relative.
Her husband, Matthew Winkler, 31, a minister at the Fourth Street Church of Christ, was found dead in the church parsonage in March 2006. He had been shot in the back.
Mary Winkler was discovered a day later in Alabama driving the family's minivan with their three young daughters.
At the trial, Winkler testified that her husband had abused her physically and sexually. She said she pointed the shotgun at him, but that it fired accidentally. Prosecutors dismissed her account as ridiculous and sought a first-degree murder conviction. If convicted on that charge, her life sentence would have been around 50 years.
The jury deliberated for eight hours before finding her guilty of the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter. She may now face three to six years in prison.
"I think Mary's testimony was integral in this decision. They had to hear it from Mary," defense attorney Steve Farese said in a statement after the verdict. "They judged her credibility and they saw that she had an abuse relationship and they made their judgment based upon that."
Despite accusations levelled in court, both Farese and Winkler's other attorney, Leslie Ballin, remain sympathetic to the Winkler family. "At the end of the day, we still are left with the memory of Matthew Winkler, and even though there have been a lot of negative things said about him in this trial, there was a good side to him too," Ballin said in the statement. "You heard that from Mary – he could be so good at times."
The couple's children – Patricia, 9; Mary Alice, 7; and Breanna, 2 – are now with his family. Winkler's attorneys hope a dialogue can start about their future.
"We would like to do so many things to open up communication between Mary and the paternal grandparents and to get the children out of this cycle of constant upheaval over this terrible tragic event," said Farese.
A sentencing hearing is scheduled for May 18 where the judge can consider "alternatives to incarceration," according to Ballin. The five months Winkler has spent in jail pre-trial will also be factored into the sentence.
At present, her defense team does not plan to appeal the verdict.
"She'll have an opportunity to address issues dealing with remorse, how she feels, what her future plans will be," said Ballin. "She will talk at the appropriate time, which is not today."