Thursday, April 13, 2006
Winkler case draws nationwide attention to Farese law firm
By SUE WATSON
Ashland attorney Steve Farese was driving in Memphis when he saw the Amber Alert, notifying the public that a Selmer, Tenn., mother and her three children were being sought, in what is now a murder case that rose to national prominence.
Farese said he has taken numerous cases that were “high profile” but the murder case of Mary Carole Winkler is a bit unusual in the attention it has drawn.
“The only thing exceptional about the case is the amount of national coverage in this case,” he said.
Farese has served as defense attorney in about 100 murder trials, he said.
Winkler was arrested in Orange Beach, Ala., on March 23 and brought back to Selmer where she faces first degree murder charges alleging she killed her husband Matthew Winkler, March 22.
Farese received a telephone call March 23 about the Winkler case from one of his friends of 25 years, Memphis attorney Mike Cook, he said.
“Mr. Cook is first cousins with Mr. Clark Freeman, who is the father of Mary Carole Winkler,” Farese said. “He asked me if I could help; he doesn’t do criminal defense work.”
Winkler made a first appearance Thursday, March 23, after she had been picked up in Alabama.
Farese said he took the case pro bono, but did not ask for it.
“Interestingly enough, I know of at least one attorney who did call the family and try to get the case,” he said.
He’s had high profile cases before that were covered in Vanity Fair, 20/20, Prime-Time TV, Court TV, City Confidential on AE and by the New York Times.
This case is of higher profile than some of the others Farese has accepted, judging by the news outlets that came to cover the case in Selmer, Tenn.
“I can’t name any news outlet that wasn’t there - ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, National Inquirer, New York Times, Washington Post, and foreign cameras were there,” Farese said. “Unbelievable. It was like you would see when the President comes out - just banks of microphones.”
Selmer is in the area of historical practice for some 40 years for the Farese firm, he said, about one and a half hour’s drive from Holly Springs.
Farese said defense attorneys for Winkler have not requested bail for Winkler as yet for many reasons.
“First of all, she’s so depressed and detached from reality,” he said. “She needs time to adjust to the gravity of the situation before we make a determination of her possibilities for bail.”
Some things attorneys and judges consider when bail is requested include whether the suspect is a flight risk, if the suspect is a danger to themselves or others, and the seriousness of the crime as determined by a judge.
Winkler is being examined by a forensic psychologist, a female also providing services pro bono, Farese said. Winkler first met with the psychiatrist March 30, he said.
Farese said the defense team had some indicators “something was going on in the couple’s relationship” but would not venture any closer.
“I don’t like to cast dispersion that cannot be backed up with hard evidence because it’s not fair to the victim, his friends, and the family or children,” Farese said. “We’ve got children to consider. You have to be careful about the children.”
He said the Winkler’s three children are staying with their paternal grandparents who live in the Selmer area.
He would not speculate when the grand jury will take Mary Carole Winkler’s case up.
“The court runs the schedule, not us,” he said. “Sometime in June there will be a grand jury proceeding. At that time we would expect an indictment. The first term for trials would be in October. This case could be tried then, if both sides are ready.”
Meanwhile Winkler’s defense team will be studying defense strategies, he said.
“We’re in the process of excluding defenses as in any other murder case,” Farese said.
Leslie Ballin, probably one of the most well-known criminal defense attorneys in Memphis, was invited by Farese to join the defense team. And his partners at the Farese Law Firm in Ashland are available, he said.
There is an investigative team at work, too.
“I’ve got an investigator, Terry Cox, out of Booneville, who is donating his time and another friend in Atlanta, Marc Garber, a former assistant U.S. Attorney who has practiced in Nevada and New York,” Farese said.
Cox and Garber are also providing their service to the Winkler defense team pro bono.
Cox, who has worked three years for the Farese Law Firm and 23 years in public service as an agent for the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics and as a deputy sheriff, opened a private practice - Lone Wolf Group - in 1997.
His job on this case is to help defense attorneys with legal investigations to develop new information, interview additional witnesses, prepare exhibits for trial and work with independent investigators.
Cox said this is the first high-profile case he has helped with as far as his memory goes.
He’s excited about the team assembled for Winkler’s defense.
“We all decided to step up and help someone who is truly in need,” said Cox. “It’s something you just have to do - the right thing.”
Speaking for the attorneys and Farese, Cox said, “They are fine lawyers regardless of if they were practicing here or in New York or California. They’re not just good lawyers, they’re good people trying to give to their fellowman.”
Farese said there are several reasons so many of the defense team are donating their services.
“We are doing it for the individual first, and the court and the citizens derive benefit because they don’t have to pay for an indigent defense,” he said.
He said the entire defense team evolved out of friendship between attorneys and their friends.
“This whole thing is out of friendship,” he said. “I took the case for a friend and other friends are helping me. It’s a kind of cooperation of friendships.”
Ballin agreed, stating his personal interest in taking the case.
“It’s because of the type of friend Steve is,” he said. “If he asks me to do something, I do so without questions. We’ve been friends about 16 years. I’m looking forward to defending her (Winkler). I see this as a challenge and I hope the end result will be favorable.
“I look forward to working with Steve on this case. It’s always intellectually stimulating to be around Steve.”
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