Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

A "Perfect" Life: Mary Winkler Story

Biblical Epic

By the following evening, when Winkler was arrested on the Alabama coast, the case was a full-blown national spectacle.

America wanted an answer to Matthew Winkler's last question: Why? Why had this mousey woman used a shotgun to terminate a seemingly harmonious marriage to her well-regarded husband?

The college sweethearts seemed to be a loving, Ken-and-Barbie couple. But from the outset, public opinion deemed that he must have done something to deserve itabuse of his wife or the children, a love affair, homosexuality.

Mary Winkler
Mary Winkler

Mary Winkler became a presumed victim and Matthew a presumed abuser.

And her clever defense attorneys, Steve Farese and Leslie Ballin, nurtured that image with a carefully controlled story line: a demure, angelic woman pushed until she fought back against a temperamental, perverted, domineering husband.

Steve Farese
Steve Farese

The shooting, it seemed, was an act of vengeance of biblical proportion.

That narrative prevailed at trial, where Mary Winkler mounted the witness stand and abashedly showed jurors10 of 12 womenthe "slutty" platform shoes and hoochie mama wig that Matthew asked her to wear to bed.

Farese and Ballin steamrolled the prosecutor's doomed attempt to gain a first-degree murder conviction.

Mrs. Winkler, facing a lifetime behind bars, instead was convicted of voluntary manslaughtera kid-gloves verdict that stunned many observers and delighted Farese, Ballin and their client.

On June 8, 2007, Judge Weber McCraw decreed a sentence of 210 days in prison and three years probation. But he allowed 60 of the days to be served in a mental health facility. And since she already served 143 days in jail before making bond, the sentence meant she was would be a free woman after a week in jail and two months in mental health treatment.

The surprising outcome enhanced the Winkler case's reputation as one of the more curious criminal acts since the seminal spectacle, OJ Simpson.

But left dangling were several questions.

For example, when did it become appropriate to use a shotgun as a tool of marital dispute resolution, asks forensic psychologist Dr. Kathy Seifert.

And who will raise the three daughters, the subject of an upcoming court battle between grandparents Dan and Diane Winkler, who have temporary custody, and their daughter-in-law? (On the side, they are suing one another.)

The Winklers have one other question: Where can they go to get their son's good reputation back?

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