The unthinkable happened in March of 2006, my cousin’s son was
murdered. Mary Winkler was later convicted of “Voluntary
Manslaughter”. The news of the murder reached the media and suddenly
my extended family found themselves in the national spotlight during
one of the most horrific nightmares of their life. Dan and Diane
Winkler have lived their Christian walk throughout their lives. This
tragedy would test their faith and trust in God.
As the weeks and months went by proceeding the trial and after the
trial, the message that Dan and Diane spread to family and friends was
to pray for the girls to be protected. They realize that their role
was to never seek revenge for Matthew’s death, but to provide a home
with love support and structure for the three precious girls left
without a Daddy.
During the sentencing portion of the trial, Diane told Mary that she
had “broken her girls’ hearts”. The older two girls, Patricia and
Allie, remember vividly the day of the murder. This was history and
the media has already shared all there is to say on this topic.
Though my intent in writing this particular post is to not speak for
the family, I’m expressing my own views and deep concerns about the
rights of children. The law firmly says that the biological parent
has first rights of custody and if there is proof that they can offer
the proper home and care that they deserve the right to have custody.
This has happened throughout our country when children, who were
adopted at birth, return to live with their biological parents even
after they have bonded with their adoptive parents. Although the
child/children see their adoptive family, as their family, they can be
uprooted out of their loving caring home, and placed with their
biological parents. The adults have first right to the children.
With that said I’m deeply concerned that the Winkler girls and now
living with their mother. Yes, their grandparents will have visitation
rights and the girls will see them every other week-end. However, the
letter of the law was followed and according to the state of Tennessee
Mary, indeed had the legal right to retain custody.
Again, I’m only speaking for myself, and as an educator and a
specialist in cognitive processes, in my opinion, it’s crucial that
the rights of children be considered in matters of custody. The baby
was not old enough to process what happened on the day of the murder.
However, through news accounts it’s established that the older two
girls have deeply imprinted negative horrific memories of hearing their
father moaning and leaving quickly in the mini-van. The news media
even released the fact that Patricia shared with her counselor that she
assumed that she would possibly be killed by her mother. She did find
comfort in the fact that she could be with her Daddy and join him in
Heaven, if that happened.
The girls had no real say in their relocation to a new town and a
new life with their mother. Though they may have expressed an
opinion, the state of Tennessee’s Letter of the Law was the final say.
These children are going to experience another uprooting in their
lives. They’ll enroll in a new school and leave friends from
Huntingdon behind. Their connections in extra-curricular activities
will discontinue. Moving is a stressor for even the most together
adult. Putting these girls in a position to go through the stress of
moving and returning to live with the Mother, who murdered their
father, is beyond comprehension. Bottom line is that the children had
no say. Dan and Diane sincerely wanted to adopt the girls, but they
knew that the odds were not in their favor under this legal system.
I’m stunned that in America children have very little rights in
their ultimate fate. It’s not my place to pass judgment on Mary’s
parenting skills or whether the verdict was just. I won’t go there.
However, I do feel a need to SHOUT my concerns about the fact that the
children will now be living with the woman, who murdered their father.
Even though the grandparents were biological relatives and
immediately took custody of their granddaughters, this was not a factor
in the judge’s decision. Out of love for their granddaughters, this
was the only decision that Dan and Diane would/could make. They became
the legal guardians and provided a loving shelter from the storm while
Mary was incarcerated and not able to care for the children.
The issue in the judge’s decision was not related to whether the
grandparents provided the proper loving nurturing home environment for
the girls. That was not the concern about whether they should have the
right to adopt their grandchildren. The law prevailed and was followed
and bottom line: the biological parent has first rights to custody.
Even if I wasn’t related to the Winklers, this case would still be
extremely upsetting. As an educator, I’m aware of home situations of
children, who I’ve taught through the years. I’ve seen children
returned to parents, who did indeed have the legal right to be
The Winkler Case pushes the interpretation of the law to the
extreme. WHAT ABOUT THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILDREN?? In America should
we continue to sit back and complacency see that we have no power to
change the laws, which seemed to have very little leeway for
interpretation. Children have feelings, memories, neural pathways
which can have negative or positive imprints. Why is there such
little concern for the rights of the children??? I don’t know, but I
do care and will find myself turning into an activist on this issue.
Dan and Diane know that God is the ultimate parent and they have
faith that God answers prayers. I continue to pray that the girls’
emotional well being and spirits will be protected. I pray that for
every child in America. I know that other issues are far more front
in center in the news….the economy, the presidential election, the war
in Iraq, foreclosures, high gas prices.
However, the children are our future. Nurturing the human spirits
of growing children is vital. Will the wording of the laws accomplish
that purpose? In my opinion, it’s time to have much broader options
for legal interpretation though it may be subjective. What about our
children? I urge all to be concerned and to get involved in changing
laws to favor the rights of children or at least weigh them with the
same concern as we do for the legal rights of parents.
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