DALLAS – The 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.
Ron 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.
Railey's 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.
Walker 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.
On 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, 2, 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.
A 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.
He 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."
More 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.
"I 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 failure.
Associated Press writers Michael Graczyk in Houston and Schuyler Dixon in Dallas contributed to this report.