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Wife who shot preacher guilty of manslaughter

Story Highlights

NEW: Preacher's wife convicted of voluntary manslaughter in husband's death
NEW: Mary Winkler will remain free on bond until May 18 sentencing
• Winkler and 9-year-old daughter described preacher's slaying for jury
• Winkler's attorney said she was abused emotionally and physically
By Susan Candiotti and Ann O'Neill
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SELMER, Tennessee (CNN) -- Mary Winkler was found guilty of the voluntary manslaughter Thursday in the 2006 slaying of her preacher husband, Matthew, after jurors rejected more serious murder charges that could have sent her to prison for the rest of her life.

Winkler, 33, the mother of three small girls, showed no emotion as the jury's verdict was read. She had testified during the trial that she shot her husband accidentally after suffering years of abuse at his hands.

Prosecutors, who argued the slaying of 31-year-old Matthew Winkler was deliberate, had asked the jury to find her guilty of first-degree murder, which carried up to 60 years in prison. (Watch Mary Winkler as the verdict is announced Video)

But jurors were given the option of finding her guilty of lesser charges, and they opted for voluntary manslaughter, which carries a sentence of three to six years.

She was allowed to remain free on bond pending sentencing, set for May 18.

The jury of 10 women and two men began deliberations about 11 a.m. ET; the verdict was handed down about 6:30 p.m. ET.

Matthew Winkler was the popular preacher of the Fourth Street Church of Christ in Selmer, a town of 4,500 people about 80 miles east of Memphis. His body -- with a shotgun wound in the back -- was found March 22, 2006, in the church parsonage. Mary Winkler was arrested the next day with her daughters on the Alabama coast.

The prosecution and defense gave sharply contrasting views of the couple and their marriage during a week of testimony.

Assistant District Attorney Walter Freeland said Matthew Winkler was a good father and husband who did not deserve to die. According to testimony, 77 shotgun pellets were recovered from his body, which church elders discovered in the parsonage bedroom after he missed a weeknight service.

Freeland told jurors that Mary Winkler showed her intentions when she went to a bedroom closet, got a 12-gauge, pump-action shotgun and pointed it at her husband.

The gun did not go off on its own, he said during closing arguments Wednesday night, calling the defendant's version of events "ludicrous."

The defense portrayed Mary Winkler as a victim of physical, sexual and psychological abuse who shot her husband by accident during an argument.

Defense attorney Steve Farese said prosecutors did not prove Winkler fired intentionally. But during his closing argument he left open the possibility she might be guilty of a lesser charge.

"Have they proven any crime? Well -- and this is hard for me to say -- maybe," Farese said. "Maybe she was negligent.".

Some of the jurors wept when the Winklers' oldest daughter, Patricia, testified for the prosecution about her father's slaying. The 9-year-old said she heard a loud boom and a thump. When she ran into the bedroom, she saw her father's body lying on the floor.

The child said she had never seen her father mistreat her mother.

But Mary Winkler described nearly a decade of marital abuse when she took the witness stand on Wednesday. She said he struck and kicked her, "screamed and hollered" at her, criticized her, blamed her when things went wrong and made her watch pornography and wear "slutty" costumes for sex.

She also said he forced her to submit to sex acts that made her uncomfortable.

A wig and a tall, white platform shoe were placed on the witness stand during her testimony. Blushing crimson and staring at the floor, she said her husband bought them for her to wear to get him in the mood for sex.

She testified that his sex drive was much stronger than hers, referring to it as "a weakness of his."

"This is not about religion, but I suggest to you that a Church of Christ preacher's wife does not wear those shoes," Farese argued.

A defense psychologist testified that Mary Winkler was depressed, showed classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome, and was unable to form the intent to kill because of years of abuse.

Mary Winkler testified that "something went off" as she pointed the shotgun at Matthew Winkler during an argument. She said she was terrified of him, and pointed the weapon at him to force him to talk through their problems. But she denied pulling the trigger.

The widow testified that she never wanted him to die, nor would she ever have wished to go to jail, lose custody of her daughters or testify about private matters at a public murder trial.

After shooting her husband, police say, Winkler packed her girls into a minivan and drove 340 miles to Orange Beach, Alabama, where she was arrested the next day.

She has been free on bail, staying with friends and working at a dry cleaner's shop in McMinnville, about 60 miles from Nashville. The children have been staying with their paternal grandparents in Henderson.


Mary Winkler listens Thursday as the verdict is read. She faces up to six years in prison.



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