Special Report: One on One with Mary Winkler

By Janice Broach - bio | email

SMITHVILLE, TN (WMC-TV) - A Tennessee woman convicted of killing her preacher husband with a shotgun blast to the back is now living a quiet life in rural Tennessee.

Mary Winkler has come a long way from being the frail and timid preacher's wife who took the stand in her own defense during her murder trial. She's been out of jail for a couple of years, and successfully won back custody of her three daughters from her dead husband's parents.

Her life seems to be normal, except for one thing.

"I have read everything I can get my hands on, experienced it, and it's still just the strangest disease. I don't fully understand it," she said in a recent interview.

Winkler sat down with Action News 5 in the backyard of her Smithville, Tennessee home to discuss life after the death of her husband, her jail-time, and the court battle with her in-laws.

"Where we rent, the man who bought this property, he bought it for the eight acres - for the field.  And so there are certain places where the fence is down and the girls will get out in there and will run, and they enjoy that," she said.

Winkler's girls, Patricia, Ally and Brianna, are growing up.  Until recently, the public has only seen photographs of them.  Mary said she has tried to make life as normal as possible for her family, but recently she started having trouble with her hands and feet.

"It was such a scary time," she said. "At one point we thought I had a stroke just because the disabilities were on the right side of my body."

Winkler soon learned it was something much different.

"Upon further testing, 'cause that's not something you go to the emergency room to find out you have MS, but when you have such an exasperation it came to that point." she said.

Doctors diagnosed Winkler with Multiple Sclerosis, a potentially debilitating autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. There is no known cure, and Winkler says her diagnosis has changed everything.

"I had just been accepted into nursing school last fall," she said. "And then with the MS - I talked to my physical therapist and my occupational therapist, and the problem, she said nursing would not be an occupation to go into because I'm on my feet so much."

Forced to take time to care for herself, Winkler turned to the in-laws she'd been battling in court to care for her daughters.

"When I had the exasperation with my MS it was a real hard time," she said. "The Winklers were wonderful because the girls had gone for a weekend visit and that turned into three months, and so the Winklers were just right there for the girls and took great care of them."

Now, Mary is trying to get used to giving herself shots and opening pill bottles.

"It's a safety thing, where you have to actually push two things to make it (open)," she said. "Honey, I can't hardly do it with two good hands."

Winkler says her symptoms are improving.

"My right hand and my right foot were just completely disabled. I could not use," she said. "Sometimes with MS whatever you experience may be permanent - you just don't know - so I was very fortunate that I have been able to come back to full capacity."

Winkler said she is fortunate and thankful for the friends and family who have rallied around her.

"We are just doing really good," she said. "We appreciate all the prayers and the care that's been provided in every aspect of this situation. For the girls - and the loss of their father - my sickness, we're just so appreciative and amazed by all the love shown to all of us."

And as for that shotgun blast that changed everything a few years ago, Winkler hopes her actions will not affect how people treat her girls.

"Whatever reason people have any problem with me, that's fine. Everybody's entitled to their opinion," she said. "But these girls are treated for who they are - not because of what their mother's done - but because they themselves are unique. They're three very fine young ladies."

Currently, Winkler does not have a job.  Because her eyes have been affected by M. S., she cannot sit in front of a computer screen for long periods of time.  A desk job, she said, is going to be a problem. In the meantime, Winkler said more than once she is thankful for her in laws, and how they have taken care of her girls.

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