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Preacher's killer's right to visit kids upheld

  • Story Highlights
  • Mary Winkler convicted earlier this year of shooting her husband to death
  • Winkler served time and was released; the couple had three children
  • The children live with their grandparents, who oppose visitation
  • Winkler has not seen her children in 15 months
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(CNN) -- The Tennessee Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to modify or overturn a lower court's ruling allowing Mary Winkler, convicted of killing her minister husband, visitation rights with the couple's three daughters.

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

Charles and Diane Winkler, parents of slain minister Matthew Winkler, had asked the court to intervene and either revoke Mary Winkler's visitation rights or allow them to proceed only under supervision of a counselor.

The children -- Patricia, Mary Alice and Brianna -- have been living with their grandparents since their mother was arrested last year.

Winkler has not seen the children in 15 months, said Kay Farese Turner, her attorney. She said her client was "absolutely elated about the news and believes this will be her best Christmas ever."

Turner said she believes the visit may come before Christmas.

A jury convicted Winkler earlier this year of voluntary manslaughter in the shotgun death of Matthew Winkler -- not the first-degree murder conviction prosecutors had wanted. She said the slaying came after years of abuse, including physical violence and being forced to dress "slutty" for undesirable sex acts.

Winkler received a three-year sentence, but a judge required her to serve only 210 days, gave her credit for the five months she had already served and allowed her to serve the remaining 60 days in a mental health facility. She was released in August.

At the time of their father's death in March 2006, Patricia was 8, Mary Alice was 6 and Brianna was 1.

Charles and Diane Winkler have moved to terminate Mary Winkler's rights and have filed a $2 million wrongful death suit against her for their son's slaying.

The termination issue has not been decided in court. Turner said the court may want to determine what, if any, bond Winkler has with her children before making a decision.

Attempts by CNN to contact attorneys for the Winklers were not immediately successful Wednesday.

In September, a lower court granted Winkler visitation with her daughters pending the outcome of the custody battle. The court specified the visits be supervised by a guardian ad litem appointed to represent the children's interests and supervised by members of the couple Winkler is living with or by her sister. A subsequent appeal by the grandparents was denied, leading to their Supreme Court appeal.

The Winklers said if their former daughter-in-law got visitation with the children at all, it should be under the supervision of a professional counselor. At a September hearing, according to court documents, they said the children "exhibit fear and confusion" toward their mother "and her role in their father's death."

One expert, in testimony, quoted Patricia as saying her mother had killed her father and, "I don't know if she will kill me. I want to ask her if she would do that to me. It scares me, kind of; if she did, well, I guess I would see my father."

The Winklers also said that after telephone calls with their mother, the children experienced "urination accidents, sleeping problems, graphic nightmares and sleepwalking."

They said the lower court erred by failing to appoint the guardian ad litem until after the September hearing.

Turner, however, said she believes terminating Winkler's parental rights would not be in the children's best interest.

"She has a faith rarely seen, and she loves those children," Turner said.

After Matthew Winkler's death, Winkler fled with the girls to the Alabama coast, where she was arrested. She said during a September appearance on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" that she never expected to get away with killing her husband, but that she fled to be with her daughters and "have some good times." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Rusty Dornin contributed to this report.

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