The circle of injustice is finally complete in the case of Mary Winkler. In case you might have forgotten, after a brief argument, Mary Winkler took a shotgun and shot her husband Matthew in the back as he lay on their bed.
It all happened in the small Tennessee town of Selmer, Tennessee on March 22nd, 2006. Her husband was the pastor of the Fourth Street Church of Christ. As far as any of the church members knew, he was a loving husband, a good father, and a faithful pastor. Whatever he was, he certainly did not deserve to be executed by his wife. After shooting her husband, Mary reportedly apologized to her dying husband, packed up their three children, and headed for Orange Beach in Alabama. She was arrested and extradited back to Tennessee where she was put on trial for murder.
Her family and a few of her friends claimed she killed Matthew because he was abusive. She testified she was subjected to years of physical and mental abuse (although there was no evidence of physical abuse). What kind of abuse? She claimed her husband had berated her for “the way she walked, the way she ate, and everything.” She told the jury everything had been building to a point and she "just snapped." She told the officers who interrogated her that "her ugly came out." When the prosecution pressed her on why she pulled the trigger she claimed she didn't actually pull the trigger but rather "something went off."
Jurors must have thought that "something" was a hair dryer because instead of convicting her of murder they convicted her of "voluntary manslaughter." The judge sentenced her to the outrageously light sentence of 210 days in jail. She served a grand total of 12 days plus about two months in a mental hospital.
What about the children? What would become of the three children who thought they were going on a vacation to the beach with their mom? The court awarded temporary custody to Matthew Winkler's parents. You would think any sane judge would never let Mary see her children again. But this week, a judge ruled in a preliminary hearing that Mary Winkler could have her children back. Everything needed for Mary to have full custody is complete but the paperwork.
Mary Winkler, the woman who mercilessly shot her husband in the back and left him to die, stood in line last week with the other good people of McMinnville, Tennessee to enroll her daughters in the local school. One must wonder how the conversation with the other parents might have sounded. "So, Mary, how are things going?" Mary might have answered, "Oh fine, I just murdered my husband, took a little holiday, and spent twelve days in jail. Say, can I serve on the hospitality committee of the PTA?"
I have tremendous sympathy for seven people in this case. I weep for Matthew Winkler, whose life was cut short and for whom justice was denied. I weep for the Winkler children, whose childhood memories will include the murder of their father by their mother. I weep for Matthew's parents who had to turn their grandchildren over to the woman who shot him in the back.
But most of all, I weep for lady Justice in the state of Tennessee. Apparently, she is not only blind but also mentally challenged. I fear we are living in the days of Isaiah 59:14 where “justice is turned back and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the street, and uprightness cannot enter. When we think of the case of Mary Winkler and how, with her children being returned to her the circle of injustice is complete, we should join the cry of the prophet Amos who said, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24 NASV).
Dr. Tony Beam is Vice-President for Student Services and Director of the Christian Worldview Center at North Greenville University in Tigerville, South Carolina.