Walker Railey (born June 25, 1947) is an American former religious minister who was the senior pastor of the Dallas-based First United Methodist Church. He was tried for the attempted murder of his wife; although acquitted in criminal court, a civil court awarded an $18 million judgment against him.

Walker Railey
Born (1947-06-25) June 25, 1947 (age 76)
Owensboro, Kentucky, United States
EducationSouthern Methodist University
ChurchFirst United Methodist Church
Senior pastor of First United Methodist Church
In office

Early life Edit

Railey was born on June 25, 1947,[1] in Owensboro, Kentucky, the oldest of three children[2] born to sheet metal worker Chester[3][4] and his wife Virginia (née Bennett).[5] While both his parents were alcoholics, Railey abstained from drinking or smoking.[6] He wrote and delivered his first sermon at the age of 17 and majored in history at the Western Kentucky University.[2][4] After studying for a year at the Vanderbilt Divinity School, Railey moved to Dallas to attend the Perkins Theological Seminary at Southern Methodist University (SMU). In August 1971, he married musician Margaret Ellen "Peggy" (née Nicolai; born October 7, 1948), who was also studying at SMU.[2][7]

Career Edit

Railey completed his doctoral studies in ministry in 1973, and went on to minister in Oklahoma. In 1980, he was appointed as senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Dallas, known as the "nation's mother church of Methodism" and where he had previously served as an associate pastor.[2] In 1984, he led the North Texas Conference delegation to the quadrennial global conference of the United Methodist Church.[1] Although "short, balding and physically unimposing", Railey was a charismatic speaker whose leadership led to a rise in church membership.[2] Railey reportedly earned $100,000 a year as senior pastor.[8] He frequently preached against racism, which apparently led to his receiving death threats from white supremacists; during his Easter sermon on April 19, 1987, Railey wore a bulletproof vest, based upon the advice of his security detail.[2] However, subsequent investigations by the FBI suggested that Railey had written the anonymous threats himself.[9]

Legal history Edit

Background Edit

At 12:43 a.m. on April 22, 1987, Railey called the police to inform them that he had found his wife comatose in their home garage in Lake Highlands, Dallas.[8] She was rushed to Presbyterian Hospital, where doctors determined that she had been choked and was experiencing hypoxia. According to detective Stan McNear, who led the investigation of her case, Walker Railey was "oddly serene" at the hospital; he initially claimed that he had been at the Southern Methodist University library at the time of the assault, but later stated that he had actually been with his paramour, clinical psychologist Lucy Goodrich Papillon.[7][10] Led to believe that Peggy Railey had been attacked by white supremacists, hundreds of Railey's supporters gathered outside the hospital in the weekend.[1] On April 30, Railey unsuccessfully attempted suicide by drug overdose at the hospital, writing in his suicide note that "there is a demon inside my soul ... (who) has finally gotten the upper hand".[2] In July 1987, Railey testified before a grand jury and cited his Fifth Amendment rights some 43 times.[11] After resigning from the church in early September 1987[12] and granting his friends John and Diane Yarrington custody of his children, Ryan (born 1981) and Megan (born 1983),[8][11] Railey moved to California with Papillon in November 1987.[2][13] In around 1991, he joined the Los Angeles-based Immanuel Presbyterian Church as executive administrator.[8][14]

Civil trial Edit

In 1988, Bill and Billie Jo Nicolai, the parents of Peggy Railey, filed a civil lawsuit against Walker Railey, who refused to respond. The trial lasted for a day, with judge John Whittington awarding $18 million in damages to the family.[15] However, Railey declared bankruptcy and the settlement was set aside;[10] in February 1997, with both parties agreed that Railey would divorce his wife and pay her a fortnightly alimony for twenty years.[16]

Criminal trial Edit

Although Railey remained the only suspect in his wife's attempted murder, no charges were brought against him by the police due to insufficient evidence. However, in August 1992, with the emergence of DNA evidence, Railey was arrested and officially charged with the attempted murder of his wife.[17] The criminal trial of Walker Railey began on March 23, 1993.[18] Judge Pat McDowell presided over the trial,[17] which was relocated from Dallas to San Antonio in response to the extensive media coverage that it received.[9] The full proceedings were broadcast on cable television channel Court TV, which achieved its highest ratings in Dallas during the trial.[18] On April 17, 1993, the jury, which comprised seven women and three men, found Railey not guilty of all charges.[9]

Aftermath Edit

In October 1993, Railey gave an unpaid speech at a nursing home in Reseda, Los Angeles, in which he bemoaned that "every time a religious scandal hits the headlines, the stock of clergy goes down."[19] He broke up with Papillon by the end of 1996 and married widow Donna Berry in April 1998.[8] Peggy Railey remained incapacitated for the rest of her life; on December 25, 2011, at the age of 63, she died in a nursing home in Tyler, Texas.[10]

References Edit

  1. ^ a b c Hayes, Thomas C. (June 14, 1987). "In A City of Strong Churches, a Fall From Grace Reverberates". The New York Times.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Cochran, Mike (January 1, 1989). "The Railey Case : The Brutal Attack on the Popular Pastor's Wife and His Suicide Attempt Became Dallas' Most Haunting and Sensational Mystery in a Decade". Los Angeles Times.
  3. ^ Wright, Lawrence (January 1988). "The Sins of Walker Railey". Texas Monthly.
  4. ^ a b Shropshire, Mike (October 1987). "The Silent Spring of Walker Railey". D Magazine.
  5. ^ Cochran, Mike (1990). Deliver Us from Evil. Penguin. p. 11. ISBN 9780425123515.
  6. ^ Sizer, Mona D. Texas Justice, Bought and Paid For. Taylor Trade Publications. p. 192. ISBN 9781556227912.
  7. ^ a b "Peggy Railey's death a turning point for one of Dallas' most notorious crimes". The Dallas Morning News. December 31, 2011.
  8. ^ a b c d e Hall, Michael (September 2001). "Walker Railey". Texas Hall.
  9. ^ a b c Verhovek, Sam Howe (April 17, 1993). "Former Dallas Pastor Is Acquitted of Charges of Trying to Choke His Wife to Death". The New York Times.
  10. ^ a b c "Peggy Railey, victim in lurid Dallas scandal, dies almost 25 years after brutal attack that silenced her". The Dallas Morning News. December 27, 2011.
  11. ^ a b Hudson, Elizabeth (April 6, 1993). "The Preacher's Fall From Grace". The Washington Post.
  12. ^ Jubera, Drew (October 1987). "A Cross to Bear". Texas Monthly. p. 107.
  13. ^ "Ex-Minister, Cleared of Attack on Wife, Files For Bankruptcy, Divorce". Associated Press. May 13, 1993.
  14. ^ "Ex-Minister Indicted In a Choking Attack On His Wife in 1985". The New York Times. August 26, 1992.
  15. ^ "Railey served with subpoena to give deposition Tuesday". United Press International. March 20, 1989.
  16. ^ "Minister Settles Suit Accusing Him of Attack That Put Wife in Coma". The New York Times. February 10, 1997.
  17. ^ a b "Testimony begins in attempted murder trial of Texas ex-minister". United Press International. March 25, 1993.
  18. ^ a b Kennedy, J. Michael (April 16, 1993). "Jury Weighs Charge That Ex-Pastor Tried to Kill Wife". Los Angeles Times.
  19. ^ Cheevers, Jack (October 21, 1993). "Cleared in Attack on Wife, Ex-Minister Speaks Out". Los Angeles Times.