Acquitted Pastor’s Ex-wife Dies Years After Attack

Walter RaileyThe discovery of the wife of one of Dallas’
most prominent ministers choked with a cord and left convulsing and near
death on their garage floor led to a sensational trial. Prosecutors
charged Walker Railey with attempted murder, saying he wanted to marry
his lover, who also had church connections.

He was acquitted,
while Peggy Railey never recovered from the savage assault at her
Dallas-area home in April 1987. She remained in what doctors called a
vegetative state until her death at age 63.

Gamel of the Tyler Memorial Funeral Home confirmed Railey’s death but
declined to release details Tuesday, citing a family request for
privacy. The funeral home’s website listed her date of death as Monday.

husband at the time of the attack, Walker Railey, was once a rising
star at Dallas’ First United Methodist Church. He was acquitted in 1993
of attempted murder, though he acknowledged lying about his whereabouts
the night of the attack to hide his affair.

Railey, who has maintained his innocence, lost an $18 million civil
judgment in his wife’s attack but the award was later set aside as part
of bankruptcy proceedings and a settlement between Railey and his former
wife’s family.

“I’m grateful that Peggy’s
medical struggles have finally come to an end,” Walker Railey told The
Associated Press in a brief telephone interview Tuesday. “She suffered a
long time.”

Peggy Railey had been staying at
an undisclosed nursing home in Tyler, where she required 24-hour care,
was fed through tubes, had no muscle control, was awake intermittently
and made noises and cries. The Tyler Morning Telegraph first reported
her death.

In the spring of 1987, Walker
Railey was a dynamic and socially conscious senior minister at the
6,000-member First United Methodist Church. He had received threatening,
racially charged letters and even wore a bulletproof vest to deliver
the Easter Sunday sermon that would be his last at the church.

the night of April 21, Peggy Railey was choked with a cord and left
convulsing and near death on their garage floor. The couple’s two
children, Ryan, 5, and Megan, 8, were left inside, unharmed. Railey told
police he discovered his wife about 12:40 a.m. when he returned from
doing research at Southern Methodist University.

little more than a week after the attack, Railey locked himself in a
hospital suite and began to write. A security guard found him
unconscious, empty pill bottles and a long, rambling note lying nearby.
Police described it as a suicide note. In the letter, Railey wrote of a
lifelong battle with the `’demon inside my soul” and said it had lured
him into doing things he did not want to do. `’My demon has finally
gotten the upper hand,” he claimed.

surrendered custody of his children to longtime friends and moved to
California with his lover Lucy Papillon, a psychologist and the daughter
of a Methodist bishop who, like Railey, once served as senior minister
at First Methodist.

Dallas prosecutors didn’t
immediately bring criminal charges against Railey. In a civil judgment
in 1988, however, a state district judge ruled that Railey
`’intentionally, knowingly, maliciously, and brutally attempted to
strangle his wife” and to cover up his actions with a `’false alibi.”

than four years later, Railey went on trial for attempted murder.
Investigators developed evidence through his cell phone calls that he
was not on the SMU campus but nearer his own home at a critical time the
night of the attack. Evidence also showed the threatening notes were
written on a church typewriter and Railey’s DNA was on a licked
envelope. A grand jury indicted him.

At his
trial in San Antonio, prosecutors tried to show that Railey plotted to
kill his wife so he would be free to marry Papillon, arguing that he
knew a divorce would jeopardize his rise through the church hierarchy.

On the witness stand, Railey swore he wasn’t covering up trying to kill his wife but had been trying to hide his affair.

was lying to my wife and creating an alibi to go see Lucy Papillon,”
Railey testified, and said the suicide note was him “confessing the
guilt and the sense of betrayal I felt for not being there when my
family needed me.”

The jury acquitted him.
`’It’s like `Murder, She Wrote,’ `’ Railey told The Associated Press the
night after the verdict. `’Everybody wants to solve it. Well, I want to
solve it, too.”

Railey’s married his second
wife, Donna, in 1998, less than two weeks after he signed final papers
ending his marriage to Peggy Railey. His second wife later died of liver


Associated Press writers Michael Graczyk in Houston and Schuyler Dixon in Dallas contributed to this report.