December 4, 2009

A question of life and death: Evansville mother shows mercy to honor her daughter and God

By John Shaughnessy

As a mother, Mary Winnecke prefers to remember the beauty and joy of her daughter’s life instead of the horror and heartbreak of her murder.

It’s one of the main reasons that the 65-year-old Indiana woman isn’t anticipating the moment when her daughter’s killer is scheduled to be executed on Dec. 11 at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City, Ind.

Instead, the member of Holy Redeemer Parish in Evansville, Ind., in the Evansville Diocese, has been working since this past summer to lead a letter-writing campaign asking Gov. Mitch Daniels to commute the death sentence for her daughter’s killer to life in prison.

“She was a vibrant person,” Winnecke recalls about her daughter and best friend, Natalie Fulkerson. “She had a love of life and a joy inside her. We were very close. I still miss her.”

That feeling endures 15 years after Matthew Eric Wrinkles broke into the home of Natalie and Tony Fulkerson and their two children. Also in the home during the early morning hours of July 21, 1994, were Wrinkles’ estranged wife, Debbie, and their two children. Debbie had come to her brother’s house as a refuge from a bitter divorce. Eric Wrinkles shot and killed Debbie, Natalie and Tony.

The killings devastated Mary Winnecke, but her love for her daughter and her Catholic faith have led her to forgive Wrinkles.

“I did it because of my daughter,” Winnecke said. “She died pushing a niece, Tracy, out of the way of the gun so she wouldn’t be killed. She stepped in front of the gun and told Tracy to run, and she pushed her out the door. There’s no way I could teach her children or anyone else to hate or kill when she saved somebody’s life. When you do the death penalty, you are killing someone.”

Winnecke admits that her efforts to forgive Wrinkles didn’t come quickly or easily.

“Our Lord told us to pray for our enemy and love one another,” she said. “The first time I prayed for Eric, I was not in a forgiving mood. I hated him. I didn’t wish him any good. I didn’t want him in heaven with my daughter. But God told us to pray for our enemies, and that was my prayer. God took that little prayer and he went with it. When you give to God, you can’t out-give God. God gives back one hundred-fold. God gave me peace.”

While Winnecke has gained peace from God, she hopes Wrinkles will ask forgiveness from God before his execution.

“I was hoping there would be a clemency hearing so I could talk at it,” she said. “I hoped to go before the governor. But Eric does not want a hearing. I pray that Eric does get on his knees and ask forgiveness. And I want others to continue to write the governor. Because we need to stop the death penalty, just like we need to stop abortion.” †

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