Mary Winkler's First Interview
Every news story seemed to ask the same questions: Why would Mary Winkler take a shotgun and kill her husband? Was she a calculating murderer, as the prosecution had suggested? Or was she a battered wife who simply snapped one day?
Convicted of voluntary manslaughter in the death of her husband, Mary was sentenced to 210 days and spent almost 60 days in a mental health facility.
Just weeks after her release, Mary meets with Oprah in Mississippi for an exclusive interview. Why did Mary Winkler want to talk to Oprah? "I can't, up to my life at this point, I can't have done all this in vain," Mary says. "And I cannot sit back if there's anything I can do to help somebody else. That is my goal at this time."
They were friends first and then began dating. Mary Winkler says Matthew romanced her. "It was fantastic," she says. "We just clicked. We had a great time." After dating for just three months, Matthew proposed.
Two or three months into their marriage, Mary Winkler says she began to see a different side of Matthew. "I just remember at some point the just being shocked at the yelling and just this different person," she says. "And the things that he would say, just off the wall. And I did not understand where he was coming from. I didn't understand his train of thought. One day he may encourage me to be with family, and then another day he may say we're never talking to them again. It was just sad. I mean, I don't think he knew exactly all that he was thinking all the time. It's just there was no consistency."
Mary Winkler says she had never seen anything like Matthew's rage. "I remember my daddy had a desk, and then I took it with me when I got married. And we had storage problems. Well, anyway, it wouldn't fit right. And I mean, he just busted it up with his hands. Now I look back on that and that is so sad. But at the time, I remember being so embarrassed and all I cared about was that nobody was looking outside of their apartment. That's all I thought of was that I didn't [want] anybody to see his behavior."
She says she never knew what would make Matthew angry. "I couldn't tell you one thing what was the reason to begin anything," she says. "If something upset him, if he was having a bad day, that was just all there was about it. It was just, get out of the way."
Matthew also became verbally abusive and critical, she says. "Weight, hair, long or short, family, friends, keeping up the house, something about the girls…just very, very critical."
Mary Winkler says she tried hide her private pain from everyone—even lying to her own father about being abused. "At the time, you think you hide these things. I just, I didn't want anybody knowing anything," she says.
At one point, Mary Winkler says she asked for a divorce, but Matthew's role as a preacher did not allow for one. "It just was so bad. And he [wanted a divorce], too. We talked about it and that's one of the few times I ever spoke up and really said what I thought," she says. "He said, 'Do you want a divorce?' and I said yes. And I think it just surprised him because of course that wasn't something that could be followed through."
In court, Mary Winkler also testified that she was sexually abused in her marriage. She says Matthew made her perform "sexual acts I didn't want to do"—dressing up in platform shoes and wigs, performing oral sex and anal sex, and watching pornography. "At the moment, I know there were certain times where my natural reaction would have been to push him off and he would stop that," she says. "When we were not in the heat of the moment and he would say, 'What'd you think about this or that?' And I would say, 'No, don't like that, let's not.' And he'd say, 'Okay.' But just he would get going and that was just it."
Mary Winkler says she regrets not standing up for herself. "That's just another, one of the many things that I think of daily where I failed Matthew," she says. "That just became something ingrained in him at a very young age and he just had to have the bigger and better and more, whereas I wish so much that we could've stopped and he could've gotten some help, how to deal with that. And try to get that out of his mind, to be satisfied more naturally."
Prosecutors say Mary Winkler, who was the family bookkeeper, made 16 bank transfers by telephone in the days leading up to her husband's death. They say she had been caught up in a money scam and was trying to hide it from her husband.
Mary Winkler says she and Matthew didn't realize it was a scam and that he knew about the money involved. "I signed every check, wrote every bill, but he told me where to put it and where everything went. I didn't do anything without him telling me," she says. "He was involved [in the scam], too. I mean, I never did anything alone. I never did anything without him telling me to."
Mary Winkler says the loss of that money had nothing to do with the shooting. "Oh no, we've been in financial dire straits many times," she says.
Mary Winkler says Matthew stormed into Breanna's room. "So I went in there after him and took the baby, took Breanna from [him], asked him, let me have her and got her settled back down."
Before he handed the baby to her, Mary Winkler says, Matthew covered Breanna's mouth and nose to "get her to pass out. …He was trying to get her to go back to sleep. I don't think he had intentions of killing."
Matthew returned to their bedroom and Mary Winkler followed after she got Breanna to settle down. Soon, she was holding a 12-gauge shotgun.
Mary Winkler says she doesn't remember getting the shotgun. She says she thinks she held the gun to get his attention. "I just know I was terrified of him, and I just wanted to talk to him," she says. "It was my fear. I was afraid of him. I never in a million years would have dreamed that there would have been something in that…in the gun being loaded. I just thought that was a rule that he always took [the bullets] out."
Mary Winkler says she was afraid for her life but that she only wanted to talk to Matthew and tell him "just to stop, just be happy. He just, he had to be miserable the way he acted, and just to stop being so mean," she says. "I'm safely sitting here right now thinking of what I wish I could have said to him. In the heat of the moment that was not realistic."
Mary Winkler says she doesn't remember aiming the gun at Matthew. "When I heard the boom I just thought that it would have hit the ceiling, the window, and I just thought, 'Oh my goodness, he's going to think I meant to do that on purpose,'" she says. "And so I took out. I just took out of there and took off running. And then at some point I just realized he wasn't chasing me, and I just had to go back in and face the realization."
After shooting her husband and then leaving the house, Mary Winkler returned to find Matthew's body on the floor of their bedroom. She says she leaned over and wiped his mouth. "He was bleeding and I just think just instincts to wipe his mouth, but it just kept coming," she says. "I didn't know how he was hurt, I couldn't see anything wrong with him, but I mean, it's just something you just don't know unless you've actually seen somebody. It's just when you actually see somebody's that's just died, they just change appearances in a matter of seconds. It's just terrible."
Mary Winkler then grabbed her daughters and left. "I just took off, we just ran away. I grabbed Breanna and told the girls to get in the van," she says.
Mary Winkler says she wasn't sure where they would go. "We just drove. At some point I thought we were going to Memphis, and then the next thing I knew we were in Mississippi. I can remember that. I had no idea and then it was getting late and I just looked for an indoor swimming pool for the girls," she says. "I just wanted to be with them and have some good times and then take them to the Winkler's."
Two days after the shooting, Mary Winkler was apprehended nearly 400 hundred miles from her home in the parking lot of a Winn-Dixie grocery store after an Amber Alert had been issued for her three girls. Officers described her as "stoic" with a "blank look on her face."
Six days after Matthew's death, hundreds of mourners gathered at the Selmer church where Matthew had been the pastor. With police approval, the Winklers allowed their daughter-in-law to spend a private moment with Matthew's body.
Mary Winkler was sentenced to serve a controversial 210 days in jail. "There's no amount of time I think you can put on something like this," she says. "I just was ready for them to lock the door and throw away the key."
Mary Winkler hopes to get custody of her children back because "I'm their mother," she says. "I think they need me. I've been through—I myself have been through counseling. I'm healthier, and those three girls, they lost their father. They shouldn't lose their mother."
After a marriage in which Mary Winkler says she would rarely speak up for herself, she now says she is a changed woman. "I communicate better," she says. "I just speak up when there's something that I don't like or I disagree with and encourage—I'm just finding who I am. Just realizing … the visor thing on my car broke one time and it absolutely terrified me. But I could calm myself and remind myself that I broke it, it was my car, and it's okay. Just simple things like that."
"Didn't Mary make a decision to wait for her husband to fall asleep? Didn't she make a decision to go into the closet and get that gun? To point it at Matthew and to pull the trigger? Those are all decisions that usually add up to premeditation, but it didn't in this case."
Lisa says she believes the community rallied behind Mary Winkler and believed her. "And when the shoe, that stripper shoe, was next to her on the stand and she hung her head low? That's the kind of thing you might have laughed at in a big city. But in that small town, I think people really believed that she was humiliated."
Leslie Ballin, another one of Mary Winkler's attorneys, says he thinks Mary Winkler should be given back custody of her children. "Not only is it legally possible, I strongly feel that it should happen," he says. "She needs those kids and, more importantly, they need her."
Lisa Bloom feels differently. "You know whether justice was done to Mary Winkler or not, I think what we know for sure is that a grave injustice was done to these children," she says. "The oldest daughter saw her father dying, bleeding on the floor.
"This is a woman who has such poor impulse control that she solves her problems with gun violence. I'm not comfortable giving them back to her completely now. I think she can start with some supervised visitation, certainly she should have contact with the children, but I don't think she should have complete custody yet."
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