Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

A "Perfect" Life: Mary Winkler Story

Trial Time

Prosecutors tried several times to negotiate a guilty plea. Farese and Ballin said they declined several offerseven after prosecutors decided not to seek the death penalty against Winkler.

Prosecutor Walt Freeland went to trial seeking a first-degree murder conviction and a 51-year sentence.

Trial observers judged that the prosecution was outflanked by the nimble defense team. Farese and Ballin managed to mold testimony to fit their abuse-spouse narrative, and the prosecutors were lousy counter-punchers.

Mary Winkler
Mary Winkler

The preacher's wife may have been saved from life in prison even before testimony began.

"This trial shows once again that the most important part of any trial is the jury selection," Michael Mendelson, a longtime New York criminal defense attorney, told the Crime Library. "The OJ Simpson case proved that, and this case proved it again. If you get the right jury, you win. If you don't get the right jury, you lose."

Farese and Ballin seated a jury with 10 women and two men. During three days of jury selection, the attorneys closely questioned potential jurors about spousal abuse. Among their queries:

"Can emotional abuse be as damaging as physical abuse?"

"Have you ever talked to someone who didn't listen?"

"Have you ever wondered why someone would stay in an abusive relationship?"

Even in jury selection, they were molding Mary as an empathetic figure overwhelmed by years of abuse.

"This was a southern jury filled with southern women," Mendelson said. "Even today, some southern women are born into a heritage of deference to their husbands. You might have had 10 women sitting on that jury who have experienced the same sort of thing, and here they are judging one woman who had the balls to do something about her situation. They may have been saying, 'Aha, it's get-even time.'"

The conventional wisdom is that women jurors are tougher than men on women defendants, but the defense attorneys obviously saw something in this particular jury that prosecutor Freeland did not.

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