The murder trial of Mary Winkler, an event sure to become a media sensation, began last Thursday in Selmer, Tennessee. The defendant is accused of shooting her husband, Matthew Winkler, as he lay on the couple's bed in their bedroom. His body was discovered on March 22, 2006 and Mary Winkler was taken into custody one day later about 340 miles away on the Alabama coast. She had her three daughters with her at the time of her arrest.
While in custody in Alabama she confessed to shooting her husband because, "he criticized the way I walk, what I eat, everything. It was just building up to this point. I was just tired of it. I guess I just got to a point and snapped." That doesn't sound much like the words of someone who accidentally shot her husband while holding the gun on him to make him listen…..something her defense attorney now claims. It sounds like the words of a desperate, confused woman who took her husband's life in a moment of anger. Later in the initial interview with Alabama authorities, Winkler described her husband as "so good, so good too." She went on to say, "He was a mighty fine person, and that's the thing."
Was Matthew Winker, by all accounts a very popular and well-loved pastor in the Selmer community, a "mighty fine person" or was he the iron-fisted authoritarian he is being portrayed as by defense attorney Steve Farese? Many people believe that a woman would never kill her husband unless he did something to deserve it. That fact was made evident by the immediate reaction of most of the media. Watching the breaking news coverage of the murder was painful because it was just assumed by most of the talking heads that Matthew Winkler must have been abusing Mary, the children, and probably the family pet.
One news program showed a family picture of the Winkler's prompting one caller to the program to say definitely that "she shot him over the children….I can tell by the look in that little girls eyes" referring to the look on the middle daughters face." If the call- in comments weren't outrageous enough the same network interviewed a psychologist who said Mary Winkler "definitely shot Matthew to protect the children because anytime a woman shoots a man in the back it is about the children." Of course, later as the facts in the case emerged, we discovered that Matthew Winkler was not merely shot in the back but while lying on the bed. I am surprised they didn't interview a medium to find out what Mary was thinking at the moment she pulled the trigger. It would make as much sense as having a psychologist make such an arbitrary, unsubstantiated statement.
So, long before Mary Winkler's story was being told to authorities, the 24 hour cable news machine was speculating up a storm, ruining the reputation of the victim. Now that the trial has begun, Winkler's defense team has decided to play the abused wife card turning the villain into the victim, thus redirecting the jury's attention away from the real victim….Matthew Winkler. Not long after her arrest, authorities discovered that Mary Winkler was involved in a check kiting scheme known as the "Nigerian Scam." Her involvement in the scheme and the fact that she had lost a large sum of the Winkler's money led to the argument that ended in Matthew's death. In his opening comments, Mary's lawyer tried to paint Matthew as an abusive husband who abused her "emotionally, verbally, and physically." He also suggested Mary was trying to protect Breanna, the couple's one year old daughter, because of an undisclosed situation which allegedly occurred the morning before the shooting. Farese told the jury, "The morning he did what he did to Breanna she was going to get his attention….with the very things he had always threatened her with." He also claims Mary only wanted to hold the shotgun on Matthew to force him to listen and that she never meant to hurt him. The gun went off accidentally making Matthew's death a terrible tragedy but not murder.
I want to be sure I have this story straight. It its attempt to make Matthew Winkler the villain and Mary Winkler the victim, the defense is trying to prove that Mary was pushed to the breaking point by all the abuse but pointed the gun to get Matthew's attention and then accidentally shot him. It sounds to me like a "have your cake and eat it too" defense. Farese wants the jury to believe that Mary was justified in killing her abusive husband but if they don't buy that it's ok because it was an accident anyway. What kind of convoluted theory of the crime is that? Its "heads I win tails you lose" like this that is turning the justice system into nothing more than a theater where the best performance wins the day.
Our justice system must be able to tell the victim from the villain or we cannot have true justice. In this case Mary Winkler is alive and her husband, who was not found with a weapon nor was he believed to be immediately threatening her life, is dead. Only the same mentality that sees a woman who becomes pregnant and takes her unborn child's life through abortion as a victim could buy this colossal role reversal. I pray that justice will be done in this case not only for Matthew Winkler's sake but the sake of sanity in the justice system.
Dr. Tony Beam is Director of the Christian Worldview Center at North Greenville University in Tigerville, South Carolina.