A killer shoots his spouse in the back, and then pulls the phone cord out of the jack so the victim can’t call 911. As the victim slowly bleeds to death, the killer abducts their three children and flees to another state.
An Amber Alert is declared for the missing children, and the killer is hunted down by police, caught and tried. Were the killer a man, he would be locked away for life. However, this killer is a woman, Mary Winkler. The kid gloves treatment she has received from the legal system demonstrates how courts tilt heavily in favor of women when adjudicating claims of domestic abuse.
Mary Winkler told the court that Matthew had abused her physically, sexually and emotionally. For that reason, the Selmer, Tenn., jury convicted her of voluntary manslaughter, not first-degree murder.
Since the March 22, 2006, killing, Mary and Matthew’s three children – girls ages 2, 8 and 10 – have lived with Matthew’s parents, Dan and Diane Winkler. The Winkler grandparents seek to terminate Mary’s parental rights and adopt the girls. Mary, who served only 67 days for the killing, wants custody of her girls, and went on “Oprah” this week to win public sympathy for her cause. The custody trial begins in Carroll County Chancery Court next week, and many Tennessee family law attorneys believe she has a good chance to gain custody.
A win for Mary would be a loss for the three girls, as well as a terrible injustice. Despite the sympathetic media coverage Mary Winkler has received, she is a dangerous, psychologically disturbed woman who is unfit to raise her children, and whose parental rights should be terminated.
Mary Winkler’s claims of abuse were largely uncorroborated during the trial. According to the testimony from Matthew Winkler’s oldest daughter, Patricia, the dead father – who as he lay dying looked at his wife and asked “why?” – was a good man and did not abuse her mother.
Former judge and prosecutor Jeanine Pirro says the case “sends a terrible message about the criminal justice system, that you can commit a homicide and literally get away with it. … You had a preacher, who by all accounts was loved in his community, who was shot in the back while he slept. You have a woman who says she was abused with absolutely no history, no shred of evidence.”
A few of Mary Winkler’s friends and family members have publicly claimed that they had previously seen indications Mary was being abused. These alleged witnesses will probably be out in full force during the upcoming custody case, and Matthew is unavailable to contest their version of events. It’s easy to smear a dead man.
Mary Winkler says she’s sorry for killing Matthew, but she does everything she can to portray him as a monster and herself as his meek, timid victim. Despite her protestations, she has no concept of the gravity of her crime, and claims her dead husband’s parents are mistreating her. Her court pleading reads, “The three minor children continue to be withheld from their mother without just cause,” which her legal team deems “unconscionable.” Winkler killed the children’s father – if that’s not “just cause” for withholding a child from a parent, what is?
In describing her crime to Oprah, Mary Winkler says she was angry at her husband and “just wanted to talk to him,” and then she “heard a boom.” A more complete description of the incident would have been that she wanted to talk to him, waited until he fell asleep, retrieved the shotgun, pumped it, aimed it at his back, pulled the trigger, and then “heard a boom.” Her description of the killing was so devoid of personal responsibility that even a sympathetic Oprah didn’t accept it.
Perhaps the most absurd aspect of both the trial and “Oprah” was the way Mary highlighted the white platform shoes she claimed Matthew “made her” wear, and which she said were deeply humiliating to her. During the trial, Mary held up the shoe and bowed her head down in mock pain and shame. Oprah bought it, telling her audience that on her show, “everybody gasped when they saw the shoe.” It was up to feminist Court TV commentator Lisa Bloom, Gloria Allred’s daughter, to explain to Oprah that in any “big city” people would have “laughed at” Mary’s claims that the shoes were part of the “abuse” she suffered. Bloom added:
“We [at Court TV] all thought it was a first-degree murder case.”
To win permanent custody, Dan and Diane Winkler must show that Mary Winkler poses a “substantial threat of harm to her children,” and that ending her parental rights is in the best interests of her children. In family court, claims of abuse in custody cases are often decided merely by the preponderance of the evidence standard – if the judge believes that there’s a 51 percent chance one side is telling the truth, they win. Yet Mary was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter, not by preponderance, nor even by the clear and convincing evidence standard, but instead by the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt –the highest standard in our legal system. That alone is sufficient evidence Winkler poses a “substantial threat of harm.”
Mary says she’s a different and better person now and that she’s learned important things. She told Oprah:
“I communicate better. I speak up when there’s something I don’t like.”
The last time Mary Winkler faced “something she didn’t like” and sought to “communicate,” she did it with a shotgun. Is this a fit parent for three young girls?
Glenn Sacks’ columns on men’s and fathers’ issues have appeared in dozens of the largest newspapers in the United States. He invites readers to visit his website at www.GlennSacks.com.
Ned Holstein, M.D. is the executive director of Fathers & Families, a shared-parenting organization.