Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

A "Perfect" Life: Mary Winkler Story

Was It Justice

Tom Flowers watched the Winkler story unfold with keen interest.

A Tennessean, he attended the same college as the Winklers, was raised in their denomination and had met Matthew's preacher grandfather, Wendell.

He said the prosecution strategy that sought a murder conviction and long sentence was flawed.

"I was just stunned when the prosecution was pressing for a conviction of premeditated, first-degree murder," he said. "So when the verdict came out, I was satisfied that justice had been served."

But was it justice?

A few months after the slaying, when the motive in the case was still a mystery, Jennifer Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, made a prescient comment when contacted by Crime Library.

Tennesse Bureau of Investigation
Tennesse Bureau of Investigation

"At the end of the day, this probably won't make much more sense to the public than it does right now," Johnson said. She added, "I think most people will be thinking...'I just don't get it.'"

Perhaps the outcome was a form of backlash against the clergy after two decades of scandals among Catholic and Protestant denominations. Perhaps it was payback after generations of the dirty little secret of spousal abuse.

But Dr. Kathy Seifert, the forensic psychotherapist, said there are unanswered questions about Mary Winkler's "massive overreaction" to whatever marital problems the couple might have been having.

"My suspicion is that someone who uses violence as a means of a resolving domestic problem has a model of that violence, abuse or neglect somewhere in her background," Seifert said.

Mary Winkler
Mary Winkler

She said the profile of Mary Winkler presented in her defense narrative seemed to fit the classic profile of a "hot" violent female. These often are passive victims of abuse who "get to the point where they can't take it anymore, and something snaps, and they finally seek their revenge."

Seifert added that the kinky sex angle doesn't seem to ring true.

"I can see a very conservative lady not exposed to the world very much becoming very, very upset and psychologically damaged by that," she said. "But when it comes to killing somebody over something like that, it feels like there's a piece of information missingsome other component that causes the massive overreaction. Maybe it's an insurance policy. Maybe it's childhood abuse. Maybe it's something else."

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