A travesty of justice played out on the nation's TV screens this afternoon. And no, I'm not talking about the Paris Hilton case.
Instead, I refer to the Mary Winkler case in Selmer, Tennessee. The former minister's wife was sentenced to three years in prison for killing her husband while he slept. Prosecutors had charged her with murder in the case, but jurors convicted her on the lesser count of voluntary manslaughter back in April.
According to Ms. Winkler, she suffered physical and mental abuse at the hands of her husband, Reverend Matthew Winkler, the popular pastor of the Fourth Street Church of Christ in Selmer. Winkler claimed that her husband hit and kicked her, forced her to watch pornography, and submit to sex that she considered unnatural. According to the AP, jurors were shown a pair of platform shoes and a black wig that Winkler said she was forced to wear during sex.
But there was no evidence that Winkler ever reported her abuse to police, or sought protection from her husband, whom prosecutors described as a good father, and a man who trusted his wife. Even in tiny Selmer, Tennessee, there are resources for abused and battered women, but Mary Winkler never sought any help.
On the other hand, there is ample evidence that Mrs. Winkler fell for that Nigerian bank scam that fills your e-mail inbox each day, and began kiting checks to cover her losses. Bank officials testified that her financial scheme caused at least $5000 in losses for their institution.
To prevent Reverend Winkler from discovering the financial problems, Winkler shot him in the back with a shotgun while he slept, then packed up their three children and fled to Alabama. She was arrested by police the following day, driving in the family van along the Alabama Gulf Coast.
Once in custody, she hired an experienced defense attorney, Steve Farese, to represent her. Mr. Farese mounted a carefully crafted campaign to depict Mary Winkler as a victim, and not a cold-blooded killer. She appeared positively dowdy in court, dressed in shapeless frocks that your grandmother would probably love, with minimal make-up.
Against over-matched local prosecutors, Farese convinced the jury (and the judge) that Winkler deserved leniency. She could have received a seven-year sentence on the manslaughter charge, but Judge Weber McCraw gave her credit for time already served, and ruled that Winkler must serve only 210 days of her sentence. He also decided that Ms. Winkler can spend 60 days of her remaining sentence in a mental health facility, so she may spend only another week in jail. And they call that justice.
Let's suppose the roles were reversed, that Matthew Winkler had killed his wife, then claimed a defense of spousal abuse. The case would have been a slam dunk--for the prosecution. Reverend Winkler would have been quickly convicted on first-degree murder charges, and cable news anchors would be talking about "justice" for his late wife.
But it was Reverend Winkler who died in the church parsonage that day and, except for members of his family, there's been little talk of justice for him. At the sentencing today, Mary Winkler said she "thinks about Matthew every day, and I'll always miss him and love him." Call us unconvinced.
Members of Matthew Winkler's family also have their doubts. "The monster that you have painted for the world to see? I don't think that monster existed," said his mother, Diane Winkler. She also testified that the couple's three daughters, ages 9, 7 and 2, were having nightmares about people with guns breaking into their house.
"You've never told your girls you're sorry. Don't you think you at least owe them that?" she asked.
Apparently not. After another week in jail and six months in a mental hospital, Mary Winkler will be free to resume her life, and continue a legal battle with her husband's parents for custody of the children.
We can only hope that the grandparents win the next round in court, and obtain a small measure of justice for their grandchildren--and their murdered son.