WEATHERFORD, Texas – After searching more than a week for a woman who seemingly vanished after her house burned down, authorities finally got a lead: Jeffrey Allan Maxwell.
He had just cashed a $500 check from her, and his car matched the description of one seen driving down the rural road the day of the fire, but Maxwell hadn't lived in the area in years. On that Friday last March, Parker County Sheriff Larry Fowler could have waited until Monday to send his investigators some 100 miles away to Corsicana -- after all, it was a gamble. But in his gut, Fowler knew they had to act fast.
When investigators knocked on Maxwell's door the next day, Lois Pearson was inside, praying.
Since her abduction 12 days earlier, she had been chained to the bed every night. She had been whipped and sexually assaulted on a bar with hooks for skinning hogs and deer. When Maxwell left the house, he kept her shackled and gagged and once locked her in a wooden box. Maxwell had told her that she soon wouldn't believe in God anymore.
But Pearson wasn't restrained that day and ran outside a few minutes after Maxwell went on the porch to talk to authorities -- who were stunned to see her. They had no idea she'd been kidnapped March 1; her house was torched March 3. It was the beginning of the end of her ordeal, which finally was over Wednesday when Maxwell was sentenced to life in prison.
"I want you to know there is a God, and he answered my prayers to spare my life," Pearson, 63, said in court Wednesday after the sentencing. As she read from a statement she prepared, several jurors wiped away tears. "It's a miracle that I am alive."
Maxwell, 59, will be eligible for parole after serving 60 years because the judge ordered him to serve two of his three life sentences consecutively. The same jury convicted Maxwell a day earlier of aggravated kidnapping and two counts of aggravated sexual assault. He faced a minimum sentence of probation since he had no previous felony convictions.
State District Judge Trey Loftin told Maxwell that he had preyed on the "least, lost, little and last" and called him a "nightmare."
Parker County prosecutor Jeff Swain said Maxwell has shown a pattern of acting on his sexual fantasies by abusing women -- from stealing panties to torturing Pearson.
Authorities seized numerous items from Maxwell's house about 50 miles south of Dallas, including sex toys, an 8-foot-long whip, handcuffs, duct tape and DVDs with bondage and rape scenes.
In a recorded interview with authorities after his arrest, Maxwell told an investigator that he'd never done anything like that "to a complete stranger," later saying he had tried bondage with his second wife and even used a stun gun on her.
Maxwell tells an investigator he had sexual fantasies about bondage but never gives a reason for abducting and torturing Pearson. At one point he blames his "stupidity" and another time tells investigators he doesn't "know all the whys" when asked what could have led him -- then the vice president of the Kiwanis Club in Corsicana -- down this path.
When asked about the numerous pairs of panties found in his house, Maxwell initially says they were "souvenirs" from ex-girlfriends. But then he says he stole panties from the daughters of several girlfriends without their knowledge about 30 or 40 times, according to the recordings shown to jurors during the seven-day trial.
"That's what this defendant feeds off of. He takes the most intimate piece of apparel ... without consent," Parker County prosecutor Kathleen Catania told jurors Wednesday in seeking the maximum sentence. "This defendant is what gives people nightmares. ... He is pure and unadulterated evil as he sits there."
But defense attorney James Wilson said if jurors sentenced Maxwell to probation, he would be a registered sex offender and could be forced to wear an ankle monitor and undergo counseling.
"What he did to her was horrible at first and then it started tapering off. Why? I don't know," Wilson told jurors. "... Only y'all can figure out what's in his heart of hearts."
Defense attorneys called no witnesses during the trial. They declined to comment after the sentencing.
The Associated Press generally does not identify victims of sexual assault. But with the trial over, Pearson said she wanted her identity revealed to share her story of survival.
She told news reporters that she is trying to forgive Maxwell, although she believes he robbed her of a special place in heaven by taking her virginity. The deeply religious woman has never been married and said she had no sexual experiences before her abduction.
"My religious faith teaches (forgiveness), and I certainly don't want to go to hell over not forgiving that man," Pearson said.