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Defense: Marriage for slain preacher's wife 'a living hell'

Story Highlights

• Something happened between preacher and daughter, attorney says
• Mary Winkler's attorney says she shot her husband in self-defense
• Her attorney says she was abused emotionally and physically
• Winkler is on trial for the murder of her minister husband, Matthew
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SELMER, Tennessee (CNN) -- The defense attorney for a Tennessee woman accused of murdering her preacher husband described their marriage as "a living hell" Thursday as he recounted her alleged abuse.

"We will show you proof that he would destroy objects that she loved, he would isolate her from her family and he would abuse her not just verbally, not just emotional and not just physically -- in other ways, too."

She needed his permission even to have her hair cut, attorney Steve Farese said in his opening statement.

"This was constant, and she lived a life where she walked on eggshells."

Mary Winkler, 33, cried in court as her attorney described how, after years of abuse, she grabbed a shotgun, fired at her husband and fled, not knowing if he was dead or alive. (Watch Winkler react during opening statements Video)

Farese said that on the morning of the shooting, something happened between Matthew Winkler and their year-old daughter, Breanna, that led the mother of three young girls to aim the gun at him. He said details would come out in testimony.

"She was going to get his attention. And there was only one way to get his attention -- with the very thing he had always threatened her with, the only thing that he appeared, at 6-foot-1 and 240 pounds, to fear," Farese said.

Farese called Mary Winkler "an abused wife" who also suffered from post-traumatic symptoms "because she didn't know what was going to happen next."

He added, "She had hoped against hope that all this had been a bad dream."

Preacher's father takes the stand

Farese also said Thursday that although the marriage looked sunny to outsiders, "a huge cloud loomed over that household."

As the trial got under way, Mary Winkler watched quietly as the first witness was called: Charles Daniel Winkler, Matthew Winkler's father.

Charles Winkler, also a preacher, told the jury that once, because of a reaction to drugs he was taking for tooth pain, his son had hallucinations and locked his wife out of the house because he thought someone was trying to kill him.

On cross-examination, he said that his son -- a fifth-generation minister -- had never been violent and that he knew of no problems in his son's marriage.

In the prosecution's opening statement, Assistant District Attorney Walt Freeland said members of 31-year-old Matthew Winkler's congregation found his body the evening of March 22 in his bedroom at the parsonage of the Fourth Street Church of Christ. (Watch how the preacher's slaying shocked a small town Video)

The sleeping man had been shot in the back early in the morning with a 12-gauge shotgun that has to be pumped before firing, Freeland said.

"The shotgun blast blew apart his ribs," the prosecutor said.

He said Mary Winkler, who the sheriff says confessed to the shooting, told investigators that the last word she heard from her husband after the shooting was "Why?"

Prosecutors say she told police she replied she was "sorry," then drove to Alabama.

As worried authorities posted an Amber Alert to find the missing children and their mother, Mary Winkler drove the family's minivan about 350 miles to Orange Beach, Alabama, on the Gulf Coast, the attorney said. The children and their mother were fine, he added.

"In the van was a shotgun, which had been in the closet in the master bedroom, and it was the shotgun that had been used to shoot Matthew Winkler in the back," Freeland said.

Finances 'in shambles'

In the days before the shooting, Freeland said, banks called Mary Winkler to warn her that the Winkler account was $5,000 overdrawn. She handled the couple's finances, and "they were in shambles," the prosecutor said.

Freeland said Mary Winkler was involved in a check-kiting scheme in which she cashed fraudulent checks mailed to her by con artists. Their scam involved having unwitting victims deposit the bad checks, then return some of the money to them.

At one point, Mary Winkler told investigators, "My ugly just came out," the prosecutor said. She said there had been no major problems in the marriage, and said something like, "There's no poor me. I'm in control," he said.

Charles Winkler testified that when he and his wife flew to Alabama to see Mary Winkler after she was arrested, he told his daughter-in-law he wished he could hug her. She reached up as well as she could with handcuffs, he said.

"I said, 'I'm so sorry for all of this.' "

Charles Winkler is suing Mary Winkler on behalf of the children.

Mary Winkler, free on $750,000 bond, is living with friends in McMinnville, Tennessee.

CNN's Thomas Roberts contributed to this report.


Mary Winkler, in court Thursday, is accused in the shotgun slaying of her minister husband.



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