The Rule of Law
I am from West Tennessee. Recently I was home to see my mother who was in the hospital and one of the most infamous trails in West Tennessee history was being played out on the local TV channels. Mary Winkler had shot and killed her Church of Christ preacher (they call themselves preachers, not pastors) husband, Matthew in March of 2006. The trial took place in Selmer, Tennessee, the home of the famous Walking Tall sherif, Buford Pusser.
All agree that she shot her husband in the back while he lay in bed. The immediate cause of the shooting was an argument, apparently about money. She had been a victim of the internet Nigerian scam and apparently lost a lot of money. During the trial she made several claims and much of it was backed up, that her husband had abused her. Her claim is that she accidently shot him after she pointed the shotgun at his back.
I have no doubt that Matthew Winkler was something of an abuser. But we can never know the extent of his abuse or the full truthfulness of her account because the abuser is dead, she shot him. Mary Winkler was portrayed as a mousey woman of less than average intelligence on the witness stand. Yet, WMC TV, channel 5 in Memphis, showed pictures of Mary Winkler sitting in a McMinnville, Tennessee bar in January 2007, drinking and smoking and having a “good time.” It seems a bit incongruent with her behavior on the witness stand and her life as a preacherâ€™s wife.
The jury found her guilty of man slaughter. Personally I have no dog in this hunt. I donâ€™t know who is telling the truth and who is lying. Most likely Matthew Winkler was as bad as she claimed him to be. My concern is for the rule of law. Mary Winkler intentionally killed her husband, you donâ€™t point a shotgun at someone laying on the bed without taking responsibility the result. Demon guns do not fire on their own. Her sentence is three to six years and there is a lot of speculation that she will get probation and time served, for taking a human life. I realize that his actions may be a mitigating circumstance, but you still have to take the act of murder seriously.
Matthew Winkler may have been the lowest scum found among men. But human life, life made in the Image of God, is precious even if it is criminal. I ask the simple question was it not easier to leave her husband than to kill him? I know something about the fundamentalist culture of the Church of Christ and I do not believe that they frown on divorce and turn a blind eye to murder. No amount of reasoning can justify this killing.
The old Texas saying, “Some people need killing,” might be true. But no one has the right to do the killing unless you are under immediate, deadly threat. If you killed off every low down man or woman, every pervert, every sinner you can find, I don’t think we would have to worry about global warming and limited resources anymore because most humans would be killed off. It is one thing to kill a person who is attempting to kill you. It is another thing all together to let anger and abuse to build up until you kill a man when you could have easily left him. There is no moral equivalency here.
The rule of law requires us all to keep the boundaries laid down by our law system. Whether we remember or not, those boundaries are rooted in our moral structures as reflected in our Judeo-Christian tradition. While our moral foundation has been eroding, the rule of law has been as well. As a society, we cannot survive long when the rule of law is ignored. It will lead either to chaos and anarchy or to dictatorship.
Every human life has value, even abusive scum like Matthew Winkler. Three to six or probation is inappropriate by any stretch of the imagination. You can claim abuse, kill your spouse and go to jail for three years if you go at all? No, that is not the rule of law and it devalues every one of us. I don’t know how much time she should serve but 20-30 years seems far more appropriate. But this is the world in which we live. And my advice to you is to sleep with one eye open, you never know who you made mad during the day. They might be willing to pay the three years.