Judge Rules Mary Winkler Can Have 'Supervised Visits' With 3 Daughters

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn.   A woman who killed her minister husband with a shotgun can begin supervised visits with her three young daughters on Sept. 29, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Judge Ron Harmon said he will draw up rules and locations for the visits within a few days and Mary Winkler can phone her children every other day.

The visits will be supervised because of worries about Winkler's mental health, the judge said, and physical security for the children will also be provided if needed.

Winkler, 33, was convicted of voluntary homicide in April for shooting husband Matthew Winkler, a Church of Christ minister, at their residence in Selmer, Tenn., in March 2006.

A psychologist at Winkler's trial testified she suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome because of domestic abuse coupled with emotional damage from the death of a favored sister years earlier.

Winkler told the judge she wants to be reunited with her daughters to help them deal with the emotional trauma of their father's death. The children are in the temporary custody of Matthew Winkler's parents who want to adopt them over their mother's objections.

"We can begin healing together and let God guide us," Winkler said.

Daniel and Diane Winkler have filed suit to terminate Winkler's parental rights, and Harmon gave no indication when he expects to rule on the overall custody battle.

Keith Ablow, a forensic psychiatrist, told the judge that Winkler's mental condition is still unstable though she has undergone counseling since her conviction and is taking medication.

"I have no confidence that we know where Mrs. Winkler is clinically today, let alone six weeks from now or six years from now," said Ablow, who has a syndicated TV show bearing his name.

Winkler testified that she has seen her daughters only twice since her arrest last year, though she was allowed at first to phone children weekly and write to them.

The children, 10, 8, and 2 years old, live with their grandparents in Huntingdon, a small town about 130 miles northeast of Memphis.

Church members discovered Matthew Winkler's body and his wife and children were nowhere to be found. A nationwide search was begun for them and they were found the following day on the Gulf Coast.

Winkler testified at her trial that she does not remember getting a shotgun from a bedroom closet but remembers the sound of it firing and her husband rolling out of bed.

She said she had endured years of physical and emotional abuse and "just snapped."

Ablow said the violence unleashed by Winkler and her reports of memory blackouts should prevent unsupervised visits with the children.

"Fresh from killing their father, to take the girls in her van with ammunition and a shotgun and to say, 'I just wanted to take them to the beach for a little more time," raises the question whether they were in grave danger," Ablow said.

Winkler went to trial in Selmer on a first-degree murder charge but a jury convicted her of the lesser offense.

She drew a three-year prison sentence and got probation for most of it, spending just over five months in jail and two months in a mental health facility.

She said she is now competent to care for her children thanks to counseling and drugs for anxiety and depression.

She said the children's paternal grandparents refuse to let her see the girls or even call them on the phone. Her father and other members of her family are also banned by the grandparents, she said.

"My children need 100 percent of their family," Winkler said.

John Ciocca, a clinical psychologist called to testify by Winkler's lawyers, said denying young children access to a parent can be emotionally damaging.

"If these children continue to be kept from their mother without good reason, they can be harmed by it," Ciocca said.

Winkler is living with friends in McMinnville, 65 miles southeast of Nashville, and has a job at a laundry.