April 17, 2006 12:00 PM

One question—Why did she do it?—still has no clear answer. The other—What happens now?—is easier to address. Two weeks after police arrested Mary Winkler, 32, for shooting her minister husband, Matthew, to death in a bedroom of their Selmer, Tenn., home, their families and fellow churchgoers—in a remarkable show of faith and compassion—have quickly forgiven Mary and begun the process of recovering from their tragedy.


The Winklers’ two oldest daughters (Patricia, 8, and Mary Alice, 6) “know their father is dead, and they’ve been told their mother is helping police figure out what happened,” says Eddie Thompson, a close family friend (Brianna, the youngest, is 1). The girls “are sad one moment, then off playing the next,” he says. Two weeks ago a juvenile court gave Matthew’s parents, Dan and Diane Winkler, custody of the three girls. “Mary wanted them to go with the Winklers,” says Thompson. “Diane has a calming influence on the children.” While classmates are preparing a care package for the girls, four family friends have already set up a fund to pay for “the best counselors in the country,” says Thompson. “They’re going to need it.” The girls haven’t seen their mother since police arrested her on March 23, but her lawyer is trying to arrange a visit.


In addition to visiting Mary in prison, Matthew’s parents “have welcomed her family with open arms,” says church member John Foote. “They’re in as much shock and confusion as anybody, but they feel for Mary’s family.” The elder Winklers—with police approval—even allowed Mary to spend an hour with Matthew’s body before his March 28 funeral. “Mary said she wanted to go to the funeral,” says her friend Pam Killingsworth, “but she didn’t want to upset the children.”


Selmer prosecutors turned the case over to a grand jury, which is set to convene in June. Mary’s attorney Steven Farese declined to ask for bail, saying Mary is too emotionally fragile to be released—and possibly suicidal. “We’ve been finding things out incrementally,” says Farese. Although he may be positioning her for a diminished-mental-capacity defense, Farese may also be trying to determine if something in the relationship between Mary and Matthew led to the tragedy. “It’s difficult because Mary is very, very, very protective of her husband,” he says. “She places a roadblock in front of anything dealing with her past. She switches subjects, and I think it’s conscious rather than depression being the primary cause.” All she has said of her marriage, says Farese, is that “she only wanted to make Matthew happy.”


On April 2 Mary saw more than 15 visitors in the McNairy County Jail. “She was in really good spirits,” says Killingsworth, who first visited her just days after the shooting. “She seemed happier.” Mary has received hundreds of letters from people across the country, and “that has really helped,” says Killingsworth. “The last time, she was feeling isolated.” Mary has also written letters to several church members, who “still love her and are praying for her,” Killingsworth assured Mary. “And she just smiled and said, ‘I know.'”


Even those closest to Mary remain baffled by her actions. Her father, Clark Freeman, came to see her in jail, but afterward he still “had no way of explaining any of this,” says his cousin Mike Cook. In that, he is like most everyone touched by the killing: unable to comprehend but capable of forgiving. “There is God’s law, and there is man’s law,” says John Foote. “Mary asked us for forgiveness and we forgave her. But now she has to answer to man’s law.”

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