Many Americans were upset when O. J. Simpson retained custody of his children after his trial for the killing of his wife, Nicole Brown and waiter Ron Goldman. Many believed, as I did, that O.J. got away with murder. The child custody issue increased our outrage. But the bottom line was that, in the eyes of the law, O.J. was found not guilty. That finding made it difficult for the courts to remove the children from his care.
That was not the case with Mary Winkler. You remember Mary, don't you? She was the preacher's wife in Selmer, Tennessee, who shot her husband in the back while he was sleeping, then took her little girls to the beach.
The jury did not find her guilty of first or second degree murder, but instead opted to convict her of a lesser felony, voluntary manslaughter. That verdict called for a sentence of three to six years. The jury ended their deliberations believing that Mary's time behind bars would be measured in years, not days.
But that's not exactly what happened. The judge went for the lower end of the sentencing guidelines, giving Mary three years--but only 210 days of that had to be served in lock-up--she was given probation for the rest. Then the judge subtracted the days she served in jail after her arrest before her family could raise bail. When he finished the math, there was a balance of 67 days to serve. He then granted the defense request to allow her to spend up to sixty days of that time in an approved mental health facility.
After her conviction for shooting an unarmed, sleeping man in the back, Mary only had to stay in jail for seven days. How did that happen?
The jurors believed her claims of domestic abuse--some of which were grossly exaggerated, others were blatantly false. But the jury believed every word she said because Mary was a sympathetic witness. And her persuasive and savvy defense team led by Mississippi attorney Steve Farese used innuendo, emotional appeals and shocking, but phony, props to back up her testimony.
Mary didn't get her children as soon as her sentenced was served. It took her more than a year after her release to gain custody of her three girls--but she did do it. I was appalled.
Here was a woman, who by her own expert witness' testimony, experienced disassociative episodes that made her lose control of her actions. A woman who claimed to have been abused and then herself committed the ultimate act of domestic abuse. And she didn't kill him at a time when she felt the threat of imminent danger. No, by her own words, she wanted to talk to him and he didn't listen. For that reason, she shot him and then left him bleeding on the floor, unplugging the phone on her way out to make sure he could not call for help.
So what happens when her obedient little girls become teenagers and refuse to pay attention to her when she speaks? Will she lose it again?
And, now, in their early years, as they try to make sense of the world, how can they succeed? The person who killed their father--a man they loved--is now the person that have to depend on for survival and their sense of security.
The oldest girl, Patricia, who was eight years old at the time of the murder, told her psychologist: "My mommy killed my daddy. I'm afraid she'll kill me, too."
Perhaps Patricia has learned to conciously suppress that worry. But deep in her mind, the doubt about her mother will linger. She waill grow up in fear of her life. No court should ever allow that to happen to any child.