A new twist in the murder trial of Mary Winkler, the Selmer, Tenn., woman accused of shooting her pastor husband in March 2006 and then fleeing with their young children, may affect the outcome of the unusual case.
New information that Winkler may have been caught in a con artist scam -- involving the writing of bad checks just before the murder -- is likely to influence the jury, which is deciding if Winkler intentionally killed her husband, trial observers say.
Winkler has said that her husband's death was a tragic accident and a desperate act by an abused woman. She was driven to point a shotgun at her husband, Matthew Winkler, because she couldn't take his abuse anymore.
"He would isolate her from her family. And he would abuse her. Not just verbally, not just emotionally, and not just physically, in other ways too," said defense attorney Steve Farese. "And that this was constant. And she lived a life where she walked on eggshells."
Winkler said the gun went off accidentally, but prosecutors tell a different story, saying the killing was a cold-blooded murder. They agree Winkler was desperate, but not because of any abuse.
Scam Victim or Knowing Participant?
They say she was in over her head financially, after falling for the so-called Nigerian check scam -- letters that promise millions of dollars from foreign governments, with a catch.
"In these letters all you have to do to collect these winnings is to wire some money back," prosecutor Walt Freeland explained.
Winkler's checks started bouncing. Her bank was asking questions, and prosecutors believe she didn't want her husband to find out her dark secret.
The defense maintains Winkler was a victim of the scam, while the prosecution argues she was a knowing participant.
The case is expected to wrap up this week with more emotional testimony. The prosecution plans to call Winkler's 9-year-old daughter to testify, and the defense will call a major witness as well.
Some say Winkler herself will take the stand this week to explain to the jury how and why her husband died.