Custody rights restored to wife of slain minister

HUNTINGDON, TN (WMC-TV) - A woman convicted of shooting her minister husband to death two years ago has been granted permanent custody of their three young daughters.

Mary Winkler was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in the 2006 death of her husband Matthew, a Church of Christ minister in Selmer, Tenn.

After a court hearing Friday, Winkler said she has reconciled with her husband's parents, who after his death sought to take away her parental rights.  Outside the courtroom, she was seen hugging and talking to them.

"We love each other," Winkler said. "We have been getting along.  We have reconciled.  We've just felt a true feeling of forgiveness."

That forgiveness was important to Chancellor Ron Harmon, who presided over Friday's hearing.

"I am very pleased the grandparents and mother reached an agreement retaining custody of the children to the mother," Harmon said. "The grandparents will have time with the children."

Winkler has had temporary custody of her children since August.  Friday's hearing was called to discuss disbursement of money in a trust fund set up for the Winkler children by well-wishers, but Harmon spent the day instead talking in private with Winkler and the grandparents about custody matters.

The trust fund hearing will be held another day, the judge said. Records on the fund are under court seal but the discussions center on how it will be controlled. The amount of money in it has not been publicly disclosed.

Matthew Winkler, 31, was killed by a shotgun blast to the back at the residence he shared with his wife and children in Selmer, a small West Tennessee town about 80 miles east of Memphis.

Winkler, then 33, said she accidentally shot her husband with a shotgun she had intended to use to scare him after a night of arguing. She told a trial jury in Selmer that she had suffered years of emotional and physical abuse from her husband.

She drew a three-year prison sentence, but was granted probation for most of it and was sent to a mental institution after sentencing for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The hearing was held in Huntingdon, the hometown of grandparents Dan and Diane Winkler.  The couple has never commented about this case to the media, and chose not to after Friday's hearing.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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