Winkler's high heel shocked jury, changed case’s outcome

Published: Nov. 15, 2011 at 8:46 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 13, 2011 at 7:44 PM CST
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Mary Winkler
Mary Winkler

(WMC-TV) - It was the shoe seen round the world. The eight-inch, stiletto heel was the turning point in the case of a Mid-South preacher's wife charged with his murder.

A new made-for-TV movie tells its own version of the Mary Winkler case and the alleged sexual abuse that lead to Matthew Winkler's death. But now, for the first time, one of Mary Winkler's attorneys has told the real story behind a discovery that changed everything about her case.

"It was the elephant in the room," said Steve Farese about the high heel. "What's this? Why is it here and who has been wearing the shoe?"

Farese teamed up with Leslie Ballin to defend Winkler during her murder trial. He said he found the shoe in the top of a closet in Matthew and Mary Winkler's Selmer bedroom. Farese said the shoe was a bombshell discovery to the defense team.

"We had not gotten the full story from Mary," Farese said.

After finding the shoe, Farese said Mary Winkler finally started opening up, telling her attorneys that her husband made her wear the shoes and a dark wig as a prelude to sex.

Farese and Ballin knew the effect that shoe would have on the jury. They believed it was a clue that gave credence to Mary's story about her abusive marriage.

The shoe was placed in a bag and handed to Mary Winkler while she was on trial.

"What's in the bag, Mary?" Farese asked his client, forcing her to remove the shoe and shocking the courtroom.

"Everyone gasped," Farese said.

Winkler's defense team wanted the shoe to be visible during her entire testimony. And it was. The shoe sat on a ledge next to Mary Winkler the entire time. Prosecutors never asked that it be taken down.

Farese believes prosecutors didn't think the shoe was significant.

"To me it was just poo-pooed away," he said. "It was kind of 'So what.'"

Farese said he thought the recent movie about the Winkler story was okay, although it featured dramatizations that didn't happen in real life. For instance, the wig Mary Winkler wore in the film was blonde, not dark brown. The movie also showed Winkler wearing the infamous shoes the night before she shot Matthew in the back.

However, the movie didn't show one dramatic thing that did happen in real life - the armed guards Farese and his team hired because of threats to everyone, including Mary.

"You're going to get yours," Farese said quoting the threats. "You better watch your back."

Farese said he knew early on the Winkler case would be big.

"The first night I went to see Mary by myself, I walked outside," he said. "Someone from Dateline grabbed me immediately."

Steve Farese and Leslie Ballin picked up the moniker "Dream Team" during the trial, something that was mocked when a Highway Patrol officer stopped them for speeding.

"He said 'Well, looky here, if it ain't the Dream Team."

The Dream Team got with a warning.

Farese said the case became so well-known that it's been ensconced in legal speak. He speaks about the "Winkler Defense" across the country.

Farese said he will probably write a book about the case eventually.

Mary Winkler was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to three years in prison.

Steve Farese said Mary received so many threats during the trial that men armed with AK-47's protected her home around the clock.

Farese kept the eight-inch stilettos after the trial, but said he doesn't know what happened to the wig.

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