Now more than two years later, one question still remains: Did Mary Winkler get away with murder?
On April 19, 2007, after an eight-hour deliberation, the jury found Mary guilty of voluntary manslaughter. On June 8, she was sentenced to 210 days in prison, with credit given for 143 days she had spent in jail the previous year before making bail. The judge allowed her to spend 60 of the remaining 67 days of her sentence in a mental health facility.
Was this verdict just? It’s a question that will be debated around her for years to come.
Since we’ll never hear Matthew's account of the years, months, weeks, and days leading up to the shooting, we may never know what caused Mary to pull the trigger.
During her trial, Mary (pictured above during testimony and below with her father and attorney) contended she’d been forced into uncomfortable and unwanted sexual liaisons with her pastor husband including dressing up in a wig, “slutty skirts” and “hooker shoes,” and performing oral and anal sex. Of course, there’s a fine line between what one person believes is normal and another sees as healthy fantasy. When a husband and wife are in agreement, fulfilling each other's fantasies is a healthy component of marriage. Were Matthew Winkler's sexual desires normal? To paraphrase Bill Clinton, it depends on what the meaning of “normal” is.
In recent months, the initial sympathy Mary's super star legal team managed to generate has waned. Reputation is not made or lost in a day’s time. It is something that plays out when the curtain is pulled and we catch a glimpse of the real person behind the headlines. It’s true that in the months following the shooting, Mary attempted to portray a stable and dependable person. She gained employment and lived with friends in McMinnville. Still, although we may never know who Matthew Winkler truly was behind that closed bedroom door, there are hints that at the very least Mary was not the team player in her marriage that her defense portrayed.
Red flags appeared in the months leading up to and following the trial. On New Year's Eve 2006, for instance, Mary was seen in a McMinnville bar smoking a cigarette and surrounded by drinks. Is there anything immoral with having the occasional smoke or sip of an adult beverage? For most people, no. But as a member of the Church of Christ and a minister's wife, Mary was breaking a moral code of conduct.
A few months later, just 10 months after her husband’s death, the public learned that Mary was dating Darrell Pillow, brother to Paul Pillow, the owner of the dry cleaning business where she worked (pictured right). Is there anything wrong with seeking the companionship of another? Again, it depends on who you ask. For some it seemed entirely out of line that Mary would date another man when she had not fully faced the outcome of the legal process, not to mention while she was still attempting to regain custody of her three daughters.
Since her release from a mental health facility, Mary has lost her job and no longer lives with her friend Rudy Thomsen. In a recent interview, Cleaner's Express owner Paul Pillow said Mary Winkler was "forced on him," and he never really had the finances to justify hiring her in the first place.
Though no real light has been shed on this case, unresolved questions linger as new ones arise. What will the end of this tragic tale be? Is there a happily ever after, at least for the children? Only time will tell if this heartbreaking case has an ending satisfactory to not only the Winkler family but to the folks who have followed it in McNairy County and across the world. Maybe one day, the book will close on this horrible tragedy that has captured the imagination and passion of a nation. M