- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 18, 2007

SELMER (AP) — A preacher’s wife testified at her murder trial yesterday 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 she 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?” Mr. Freeland asked.

“Yes, sir,” Mrs. Winkler replied. She said she remembered holding the gun, but not getting it from the closet.

She said she just wanted to talk to her husband, Matthew, when she went into their bedroom that day in March 2006, but she was too terrified.

“He just could be so mean,” she said. But, she told Mr. 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 Mr. Winkler as a good father and husband. The couple’s 9-year-old daughter, Patricia, testified she had a good father and she never saw him mistreat her mother.

Mr. Winkler, 31, was fatally shot in his back. A day later, his wife was arrested on the Alabama coast 340 miles away, driving the family minivan with her three young daughters inside.

Mrs. 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.

Mrs. Winkler said 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.

If convicted of first-degree murder, Mrs. Winkler could be sentenced to up to 60 years in prison. But defense attorney Steve Farese said the judge would decide whether the jury could consider lesser charges, such as voluntary manslaughter or reckless homicide.

A psychologist testified Mrs. 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.

Last week, prosecutors played an audiotape in which Mrs. Winkler acknowledged shooting her husband. She told authorities that her husband criticized her constantly and that she got tired of it and just “snapped.”

“That’s the problem. I have nerve now, and I have self-esteem. My ugly came out,” Mrs. Winkler said on the audiotape.

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