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Minister's Wife Stands Trial For Murder

A popular young minister at the Fourth Street Church of Christ in this small western Tennessee town was found dead on March 22, 2006, in the bedroom of the church parsonage.

Now his quiet and unassuming wife, 33-year-old Mary Winkler, is set to stand trial on first-degree murder charges. Jury selection was scheduled to begin Monday.

Authorities said Matthew Winkler, 31, was struck by a single blast from a 12-gauge shotgun as he lay in bed. His wife was arrested a day later in Orange Beach, Ala., some 340 miles away from Selmer, with the couple's three young daughters.

Police say she admitted shooting her husband, and that it had something to do with his constant criticism.

"It was just building up to this point," Mary Winkler said, according to a statement taken by Alabama police. "I was just tired of it. I guess I just got to a point and snapped."

But friends have said they can't understand how someone as sweet and quiet as Mary Winkler could be charged with murder.

"This was a perfect family," Judy Turner, a member of the Winkler's McMinnville church, said just after Winkler was arrested.

If convicted, Winkler would be sentenced to life in prison with parole possible after 51 years.

While Winkler has been found competent to stand trial, her attorneys, Steve Farese and Leslie Ballin, have indicated they may argue that she lacked the required state of mind to commit premeditated first-degree murder.

But mostly, Farese, Ballin and prosecutors have been mum about the case.

"I'm sure it would allay a lot of people's fears if they know the whole story, but as you know, they cannot know the whole story until we go to court," Farese said in August when Winkler was released on $750,000 bail.

The Winklers were married in 1996. They met at Freed-Hardeman University, a Church of Christ-affiliated school in Henderson where Matthew's father was an adjunct professor. Mary took education classes, and Matthew took Bible classes. Neither graduated.

Before moving to Selmer, Matthew Winkler taught Bible classes part-time at Boyd Christian School, a Church of Christ-affiliated school in McMinnville.

The trial could last several weeks. Because of the attention the case has drawn, officials in the town of about 4,500 people, about 80 miles east of Memphis, said they were preparing for a horde of reporters and spectators.

"We're just anticipating," McNairy County Circuit Court Clerk Ronnie Brooks said. "We've had some murders in this county, but nothing this sensationalized. It kind of caught us off guard."