TYLER (AP/CBSDFW) - Peggy Railey, the former wife of a Dallas minister who was acquitted at a sensational trial of trying to strangle her, has died in East Texas nearly 25 years after the attack that left her incapacitated.
Ron Gamel of the Tyler Memorial Funeral Home confirmed Railey’s death but declined to release details Tuesday, citing a family request for privacy.
Railey, 63, never recovered from the savage choking assault at her Lake Highlands home in April 1987 and remained in what doctors called a vegetative state. Walker Railey, her husband at the time of the attack, 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 an 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.”
In an email statement Tuesday afternoon, First United Methodist’s current pastor John Fielder said: “Her death accentuates the heartbreak and sorrow our church has felt for the past 24 years surrounding the attack upon her and the long years of debilitation resulting from it.”
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 married his second wife, Donna, in 1998, less than two weeks after he signed final papers ending his marriage to Peggy Railey. She later died of liver failure.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)