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Wife who killed preacher set free

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Mary Winkler, 33, is out of custody
  • She shot her preacher husband in the back with a shotgun in March 2006
  • She was convicted of voluntary manslaughter, served less than a year
  • She now faces a legal battle with her in-laws over children, husband's death
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From Susan Candiotti and Rusty Dornin
CNN
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(CNN) -- After spending a total of seven months in custody, the Tennessee woman who fatally shot her preacher husband in the back was released on Tuesday, her lawyer told CNN.

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Holding baby Breanna, Mary Winkler stands next to Matthew. In the foreground are Mary Alice and Patricia.

Mary Winkler, a 33-year-old mother of three girls, was freed from a Tennessee mental health facility where she was treated for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, lawyer Steve Farese said.

"She is out," Farese said.

Farese said his client will not talk to the news media because she continues to wage a legal battle to win custody of her girls and faces a $2 million civil suit filed by the parents of her slain husband, Matthew Winkler.

Except for her oldest daughter's brief testimony at her trial, Winkler hasn't seen her children in a year, the lawyer said.

Winkler will return to work at the dry cleaners in McMinnville, Tennessee, where she worked before the trial, Farese said. She is living with friends.

Winkler served about five months in county jail as she awaited trial, then spent two months undergoing therapy at the mental health facility following her conviction for voluntary manslaughter.

Winkler never denied shooting her husband, Matthew, the popular new preacher at the Fourth Street Church of Christ in Selmer, a town of 4,500 people about 80 miles east of Memphis.

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On March 22, 2006, church elders found his body -- with a shotgun wound to the back -- in the bedroom of the parsonage after he failed to show up for an evening service. His wife was arrested the next day with the couple's three young daughters in Orange Beach, Alabama, on the Gulf coast.

Mary Winkler was charged with murder, which could have sent her to prison for up to 60 years, but a jury found her guilty of voluntary manslaughter following an emotional trial in which she testified about suffering years of verbal and physical abuse.

In a statement to police after her arrest, Winkler said she didn't recall pulling the trigger .She said she apologized and wiped the blood that bubbled from her dying husband's lips as he asked, "Why?"

Prosecutors and Matthew Winkler's family members said he was a good husband and father.

But on the stand, Mary Winkler described a hellish 10-year marriage during which, she said, her husband struck her, screamed at her, criticized her and blamed her when things went wrong. She said he made her watch pornography and wear "slutty" costumes for sex, and that he forced her to submit to sex acts that made her uncomfortable.

She testified she pointed the shotgun at her husband during an argument to force him to talk through their problems, and "something went off."

A defense psychologist testified that she was depressed and showed classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Mary Winkler initially received a three-year sentence in June. But Circuit Court Judge J. Weber McCraw required that she serve only 210 days, and allowed her to serve the rest of the time on probation.

She also received credit for five months she spent behind bars awaiting trial, which left only about 60 days to her sentence. McCraw ruled she could serve the time in a mental health facility.

Since Mary Winkler's arrest, the couple's three children have been cared for by Matthew Winkler's parents, who have filed court papers seeking to terminate her parental rights. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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