Mary Winkler, half of what has been described as "a perfect couple," was indicted by a grand jury today on first-degree murder charges in the March 22 shooting of her husband, the minister Matthew Winkler.
He was the passionate young minister and she his quiet, substitute-teacher wife, beloved and respected in the town of Selmer, Tenn. The alleged murder has left his congregants desperate to find a motive to explain why, seemingly out of nowhere, Mary Carol Winkler allegedly shot her husband dead and ran away with their three daughters, confessing to the crime two days later.
As the small community of about 4,600 recovers and rumors and rampant speculation continue to swirl around Winkler's motive, she and her defense team will reappear in court Wednesday. Winkler could face the death penalty if convicted.
Sources close to District Attorney Elizabeth Rice, who is prosecuting the case, say that when she heard about the pastor's death she was just as shocked as anyone in Selmer. Still, sources say she seems confident about her case against Winkler. Winkler reportedly confessed to authorities that she murdered Matthew and had planned the killing in advance.
According to reports from The Associated Press, Matthew Winkler, 31, was hired at the Fourth Street Church in February 2005. The church congregation took in the Winkler family with open arms and appreciated Matthew's straight-from-the-Bible approach to sermons, according to multiple accounts.
It was Winkler's first full-time minister position. He had previously worked as a youth minister in McMinnville and Nashville, Tenn., the AP reported.
Church members have described Mary Winkler as a "quiet, unassuming woman," working toward becoming a substitute teacher in Selmer, while raising the couple's three children: Patricia, 8; Mary Alice, 6; and Breanna, 1.
"They were a nice family," Jimmy Whittington, former Selmer mayor and friend of the Winkler family told the AP.
By all accounts, there were no domestic problems between the Winklers. Yet for reasons still unknown, sometime early on Wednesday, March 22, Mary Winkler allegedly shot her husband in their parsonage, some two miles from the church, reportedly only hours after she had finished her first day as a substitute in the Selmer public school district.
According to reports, when Matthew did not show up for Wednesday service, congregants became worried and went to look for him at the parsonage. When his body was found and Winkler and the three children were not, Tennessee authorities issued a nationwide Amber Alert.
"We issued the Amber Alert that night around 9 p.m.," said Jennifer Johnson, of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation in an interview with ABC News last week.
Authorities tracked Winkler to Alabama, where police officers in Orange Beach spotted the family minivan and pulled it over. "She did not put up a fight," Johnson said.
Johnson said that inside the van were Winkler's daughters, in good health. "The kids were fine, some were visibly upset as a result of all the activity around them," said Johnson.
After she was taken into custody, Winkler was questioned by members of the Orange Beach squad and the Alabama Bureau of Investigation. It was then that Winkler reportedly gave a full confession to the crime. Although TBI authorities will not confirm that she confessed, Johnson said Winkler was "very cooperative."