Congregation honors slain pastor while awaiting his wife's return

Sunday, March 26, 2006

SELMER, Tenn. -- Members of the congregation planted flowers Saturday outside the Fourth Street Church of Christ as they waited for their minister's wife to be brought home to face first-degree murder charges in the death of her husband.

The gardening project and a spring cleanup had been planned weeks ago by Matthew Winkler, the 31-year-old minister who was shot to death at the parsonage he shared with his wife Mary and their three young children.

"We're doing this because Matthew wanted us to," church member James Turner said as he dug a spade into the dark soil of a flower bed. "It keeps us busy," said Jimmie Smith, a retired counselor.

"Listen, the Mary we knew didn't do this," Anita Whirley said as she planted purple, yellow and red pansies. "She was a wonderful person. We just don't understand."

Police found Mary Winkler, 32, and her daughters late Thursday about 340 miles from home in Orange Beach, Ala., where she had rented a condo.

Police said she confessed to the killing and she was charged Friday with first-degree murder, a crime that requires premeditation.

Authorities refused to disclose a motive.

She did not resist extradition, and McNairy County sheriff's deputies picked her up Saturday at the Baldwin County, Ala., jail.

Matthew Winkler was found dead in a bedroom at the couple's home in Selmer after church members went looking for him because he did not appear for a service. The parsonage is about two miles from the church in a quiet, heavily wooded neighborhood.

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent John Mehr has said police know why she shot her husband, but he would not disclose the motive except to say police did not believe it was infidelity. He would not comment on whether Mary Winkler had accused her husband of abuse. Court papers offered no hint of a motive.

An Alabama judge released the Winkler children -- Breanna, 1; Mary Alice, 6; and Patricia, 8 -- to the custody of their paternal grandparents. Mary Winkler was at the custody hearing Friday in handcuffs.

The family had moved to Selmer a year ago when Matthew Winkler was hired for his first job as the lead minister of a Church of Christ congregation. Church members described them as a devoted couple, good parents and good friends.

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