Free for Now

updated 08/28/2006 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/28/2006 01:00AM

As she walked out of McNairy county jail Aug. 15, America's unlikeliest alleged killer embraced her tearful father. Eyes downcast, Mary Winkler faced the media. Five months after the shotgun slaying of her minister husband, Matthew Winkler, 32, was freed on $750,000 bond pending her first-degree-murder trial in October. "Respect her privacy," her attorney Steven Farese Sr. implored. "She has some acclimating to do."

Still, she won't be in hiding. In fact, she'll be behind the counter at Cleaners Express in McMinnville, Tenn. Paul Pillow and Matt Hash, the gay couple who own the dry-cleaning shop, are old friends of Winkler's, and they've offered her a job. Although some customers have protested her hiring, "I'm real calm with it," says Pillow. "The Mary we know is the most kindhearted person you'll ever meet. It could have happened to any one of us in a relationship—if we get so mad that we snap."

That appears to be Winkler's defense: Matthew's alleged years of verbal and emotional abuse fueled a meltdown and, as she told police, "My ugly came out." Though he never witnessed abuse, Pillow says when he saw Winkler with her husband, she seemed cowed. "Her personality would totally change," he says. "Alone, she was upbeat and bubbly."

While in jail, Winkler had only one brief visit with her daughters Patricia, 8, Mary Alice, 6, and Brianna, 1, now in the custody of Matthew's parents. Further contact will require their consent. Winkler will live with her friend Kathy Thomsen, the married mother of a young son. "I worry for Kathy because I think this lady was mentally disturbed," says Thomsen's cousin Erin Brownyard, 33, who believes Winkler should stay behind bars. "Some people feel sorry for her. But she had a choice. I would imagine if my husband was emotionally abusive, before I'd kill him, I'd just leave."

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