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Interview with minister's wife played at trial

Mary Winkler sobbed and talked of reaching into a closet for a shotgun. She is charged in her husband's death.

April 14, 2007|Jenny Jarvie | Times Staff Writer

SELMER, TENN. — Jurors in the trial of a minister's wife charged with first-degree murder heard a tape of her speaking in sobs during an interview with investigators the day after her husband's body was discovered in the parsonage.

"I didn't just get up and say, 'Hey, let's see how this thing works,' " said Mary Winkler, 33, apparently alluding to the shotgun used in the killing. "I was battling; I've been battling it not to do that forever. And I don't know why."

Winkler had recently been arrested at an Alabama resort about 340 miles from Selmer, the couple's western Tennessee hometown. She had been with their three young daughters.

An agent with the Alabama Bureau of Investigation was questioning her.

Winkler sobbed frequently in the recording. She said she reached up to get the shotgun from a closet and suggested she was in the bedroom, balancing on pillows on the floor, around the time of the shooting.

"It was not as loud as I thought it would be," she said.

But, as defense attorneys repeatedly pointed out, Winkler stopped short of saying she shot her husband, Matthew.

Many of her statements consisted of "um," "I don't know" and "uh-huh."

It was a "total blur," she said, when pressed to describe what happened immediately after the shooting.

Defense attorney Steven Farese suggested that Alabama agent Stan Stabler misled Winkler that her recorded statement would not be made public. He accused Stabler of pressing Winkler with increasingly loaded questions.

Farese also drew out the fact that Winkler did not verbally answer Stabler's repeated question of whether she shot her husband. "On the seminal issue in this case -- whether Mary Winkler shot her husband -- you say there was no verbal response?" Farese asked.

"With nodding, she affirmed to me," Stabler replied.

"Nodding?" said Farese theatrically. "Nodding?"

The defense, which is arguing that the shooting was accidental, suggested Winkler was tired and disoriented when she was interviewed. She paused for long periods of time, sobbed and asked for questions to be repeated.

"I just can't right now," she said when Stabler asked her to tell him what was troubling her. She said she was just not up to that.

Winkler suggested on the tape that the couple's domestic relationship had deteriorated after years of conflict, but she did not provide specifics.

She said repeatedly that she feared her husband's reputation would be smeared in newspapers and in court. Winkler, 31, was a minister at Selmer's 4th Street Church of Christ.

"There's no reason for him to have anything ugly because I have obviously done something very bad, so let me just, you know, be the, get the bad," she said.

Winkler took pains to speak well of her husband.

"He was a mighty fine person, and that's the thing," she said. "You just say, 'The lady was a moron.' " She added: "That's fine with me."

But she did reveal a few things about her husband.

"I love him dearly, but gosh, he just nailed me in the ground," she said. "Just chewing, whatever."

Winkler also said her husband had threatened her physically, referring to an incident six years ago when they lived in Pegram, Tenn.

"He said something that really scared me," she said. "I don't know, something life-threatening." She didn't elaborate.

In another interview, with a special agent of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation named Chris Carpenter, Winkler talked of her husband's criticism of her, according to the interview summary Carpenter wrote. The interview wasn't taped.

Winkler said her husband criticized "the way I walked, what I ate, everything," according to the summary. She also mentioned financial pressures, which she described to Carpenter as "mostly my fault, bad bookkeeping."

"I was just tired of it," she was quoted as saying. "I guess I just got to a point and I snapped."

During cross-examination of Carpenter, defense attorney Leslin Ballin continued the argument that the state had insufficient evidence that Winkler deliberately shot her husband.

"You didn't write down that Mary pointed the shotgun at Matthew, did you?" Ballin asked. "You didn't write down that Mary intentionally pulled the trigger, did you?"

"She did not tell me she intentionally pulled the trigger," Carpenter replied.

jenny.jarvie@latimes.com

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