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."
Two days later, members of the TBI extradited Winkler to Tennessee, where she is now being held in McNairy County Jail. Their children were handed over to their paternal grandparents.
Searching for a Motive
According to Johnson and other reports, Winkler did not give a motive as to why she shot her husband, sparking rampant speculation in the town and the media.
"Our concern at this point is why the crime took place," Selmer police investigator Roger Rickman told the AP. "There have been no specific accusations made by Mrs. Winkler."
Members of Winkler's defense team, led by Steven Farese, are staying mum about their client's motive, and TBI officials are not releasing any information. Farese has been contacted several times by ABC News but has not returned calls.
ABC News has reported that TBI agent John Mehr has said that a motive is known, yet won't be disclosed as of now. Only one motive has been definitely ruled out by authorities -- infidelity.
"We're hoping some clarity will be provided, and some information about that will come out soon," said TBI Officer Johnson.
According to some news reports, Farese has also hinted at an insanity defense. Winkler's defense team has reportedly had her visited by a psychiatrist, and prison guards have reportedly put her on a suicide watch.
"Perhaps over time we will better understand why this has happened," Selmer church elder Robert Shackelford said to the AP.
"Be very cautious about what you say or even what you think," Shackelford said, reportedly speaking to fellow congregants.
Members of the Selmer community and of Winkler's congregation are still reeling from the ordeal, trying to find answers as to why the murder happened. Congregants tell ABC News that in this time of grief, many are holding on to what Matthew provided them with weekly -- faith.
"This is a difficult time, there are good days and bad days," said congregation member Judy Turner in an interview with ABC News last week. "You have to have faith that everything is going to be all right. The good Lord is in charge."
Tuner said that the community had grown very close to the Winkler family, and people are heartbroken by what has been the loss of an entire family.
"It's like losing one of your own. We were close with the entire family," she said.
To the Grand Jury
It is still unclear whether prosecutors will ask for the death penalty. Some legal experts say they have a very strong case.
"It's not supposed to happen that you lose a case like this," Birmingham District Attorney David Barber told ABC News.
But Barber adds that "you never know what kind of defense could come up" over the course of a case. Among other possible arguments, Barber said, attorneys could put forth an insanity defense or suggestions that Winkler was a battered wife. However, TBI officials have said that there appears to be no history of spousal abuse.
Other prosecutors say it's impossible to predict if a Tennessee jury will convict Mary Winkler.
"I don't think any prosecutor who's done this for a while thinks anything's a slam-dunk," said John Sarcone, a prosecutor in Des Moines, Iowa. "But when you have a confession it sure does help."