What followed turned Mary from a victim to a suspect in a matter of seconds. Inside the car, police discovered the shotgun that had killed her husband. Furthermore, her recorded interrogation sounded a lot like a confession.
"I have obviously done something very bad so let me just, you know, be the, get the bad. That would be my request," she said. Detective Stan Stabler interrogated Mary, and asked her why she did it — a question Mary never really answered. She continued. "I love him dearly, but gosh, he just nailed me in the ground. I just took it like a mouse."
Stabler had what he considered a confession. She told him, "My ugly came out. I made the choice to do something that was evil and was wrong and illegal."
Strangely enough, through the course of her interrogation, Mary kept expressing her concern for Winkler's reputation. And back home in Selmer, the news that the preacher's wife would stand trial for murder sparked a media sensation.
The question why was still unanswered, but prosecutor Walt Freeland had a theory — greed. He said Mary was involved in a series of financial schemes that she had hid from her husband.
The defense had a different theory: dark, perverted family secrets involving pornography, violence, sodomy and child abuse. Secrets that would shake the faith of the Bible Belt town of Selmer to its core.
According to Mary, Winkler threatened her with a shotgun many times, kicked her in the face and asked her to engage in sex acts she found to be "unnatural." It was a very different picture than the ideal public image the couple portrayed at the church.
Mary's father, Clark Freeman, suspected something terribly wrong was going on but was unsure exactly what. He said, "I tried to persuade her to leave him. She just did not want to. And she would hang her head and shake it, 'No daddy, no daddy. … I'm going to work it out.'"
To many of the jurors on the case, the recording of Mary's interrogation was an admission that she had fatally shot Winkler on purpose.
Even though the case seemed straightforward, Mary's big-city attorneys, Steve Farese and Leslie Ballin, were about to turn the case around.
They argued that Mary was the victim, that Mary was "his whipping boy," Farese said. The lawyers also found witnesses who saw glimpses of this dark side of Winkler. In fact, one of the Winklers' neighbors nicknamed him the "Tasmanian devil," because his explosive temper had earned him a reputation on their street.
Mary testified about Winkler's threats to kill her in graphic ways, his physical and emotional abuse. She told the jury of the painful sexual acts he'd make her engage in, but there were no police reports, she never confided in anyone. There was nothing for the jury to go on but Mary's word and pornographic photos found on the Winkler's computer.
According to church doctrine, divorce wasn't really an option for Mary — not if Winkler wanted to keep his position in the church. The defense seemed to be convincing the jury that Mary was indeed abused, but convincing jurors that his behavior justified a killing was another story.
There was, however, one more chilling family secret to come out in the trial.