Jesus Forgives Everything
Well praise Jesus Brothers and sisters, I just thought that THIS
story of glad tidings should be brought forth and highlighted, the better to lift up Christ's message of love for us all to wallow in. To all the nay-sayers out there, take notice! Through Christ's temporary sacrifice, even a throat-slitting murderer can be Saved© in the Blood of Jesus. Somebody shout GLORY!!
Killer-turned-pastor preaches redemption, but victim's son outraged
MADISON, Tenn. – Maury Davis doesn't look like a low-life murderer.
Striding across the platform of Cornerstone Church, flanked by massive television screens, a choir and a small orchestra, he looks like the successful preacher he is.
Middle-aged. Impeccably groomed. Beloved pastor of a church with more than 6,000 members, host of a Sunday television show watched by 125,000. International evangelist. Husband of 23 years, father of four.
He's all of that – but he's also a killer.
"I did something heinous, not just awful," says Davis, who slit the throat of 54-year-old Jo Ella Liles in broad daylight in a peaceful middle-class Irving neighborhood in 1975. "Unless you go to a Charles Manson level, it's out there."
After a jailhouse conversion and eight years in prison, Davis became a prominent evangelist, inspiring many with the story of his remarkable redemption. It has brought him phenomenal success.
Davis' achievements, clean record since the crime and the high regard in which he is held leave his victim's son disheartened. "I'm seeing somebody who had great success at my expense, at my mother's expense," says Ron Liles. "How can you not feel a little hostile?"
Davis says he tells his story to draw people to church and to help others "understand that throwaway people may be salvageable," not for profit. The story raises uncomfortable questions: How much punishment is enough? At what point is someone redeemed? When is it time to forgive?
Those questions haunt both men, because while Davis' salvation may have been bought with the blood of Jesus, the Liles family also paid a price.
When Davis gives his testimony – in church, on radio and television, at prayer breakfasts and on his Web site – he refuses to talk about the killing.
But Ron Liles remembers his mother.
"She was a good mom and a fantastic cook," says her 66-year-old son.
People knew she could be found at Oak View Baptist Church whenever the door opened. Her pastor, Wallace Philpot, says she was a quiet woman "well loved" by the congregation. She also enjoyed canasta and the occasional trip to the horse races.
The year before her death was busy: Her husband passed away, and her only son, a recent graduate of pharmacy school, married.
Ron Liles, who owned a home across the street from his parents' house, listed it for sale. His mother was "very friendly," he says, and when she saw two young men looking at his place, "she would probably have walked over there with a smile on her face and said, 'Hi, how are y'all doing?' "
Maury Davis, 18, was one of those men.
Davis came from a well-to-do family with four kids, a strong work ethic and harsh discipline. What it lacked, he says, was church.
On Sundays, "we went to the lake," where his stepfather and mother owned a home. At Christmas, the family opened presents, and on Easter, "we hunted Easter eggs."
In junior high, he says he fell in with kids who did marijuana, then amphetamines, then LSD. In high school, wanting to kick his drug habit, he asked his parents to send him to military school.
Chapel attendance was required, but, "It was so boring and so irrelevant, I just checked out," he says.
After graduation, a family friend gave him a job at a truck yard and offered to pay his way through college. Davis says he took the money but didn't attend class. He partied hard and financed an escalating drug habit by dealing dope, robbing mailboxes and burglarizing houses.
Davis says he doesn't remember why he and his friend Ricky Payne stopped by the empty house that day – he says maybe he planned to burglarize it later. He says when Jo Ella Liles showed them the house, he spied paint cans next to a hot water heater and offered to move them.
According to court testimony noted in newspaper accounts, Davis "snapped" after Liles made a dismissive remark about the painters who'd left the cans behind. Today, Davis says that he became enraged because the paint spilled on his cowboy boots.
Whatever the reason, he hit Liles, stabbed her and cut her throat. His attorney says he used a buck knife.
"The meth addict in me" couldn't control the anger, he says. "There is no reason. It was rage."
A passing postman heard Liles' "death gurgle," says former Irving Detective John Looper.
Looper, 70, remembers the brutality of the Jan. 27, 1975, slaying. "It was horrible," he says. Liles "was just trying to help those two old boys, and they killed her for it." As the two men drove away, the postman wrote the license plate number of their car on his palm.
Davis took his bloody clothes to the cleaners and went to lunch.
When talking about his road to redemption, Davis' eyes occasionally well up and his voice trembles.
But right after the crime, Davis says, he felt no remorse.
"You have to understand," he says. "A person that's been on drugs as hard as I'd been, with as little sleep as I'd had, giving themselves to a totally lascivious lifestyle ... does not cognize any of their effect on other people, nor do they maintain any sense of normal conscience."
Looper agrees that Davis exhibited no remorse but says that other than a little marijuana found at his apartment, "drugs never came into it."
When the attorney his father hired, Dennis Brewer, visited Davis in jail, he tried to get a feel for his new client. Brewer recalls the conversation:
"Maury, it's been less than 24 hours since you killed this woman," Brewer said. "You don't seem to be that upset about it."
"Yeah," Davis replied. "I didn't even know that old lady."
"Well, it's kind of like if you run over a cat or a dog," Brewer said.
"No, man," Davis said. "I like dogs and cats."
Brewer was hired by Davis' family because of his legal reputation, and Davis says he naively expected the attorney to get him out of jail quickly.
Six months earlier, the hard-living attorney had become a Christian. After they met, Brewer asked Davis to pray with him. Davis declined.
Undeterred, Brewer asked J. Don George, an Assemblies of God pastor at Calvary Church in Irving, to visit. Davis, "was blasé about the whole thing," the pastor recalls.
But he continued to visit, as did other preachers. None had any discernible effect.
Davis says it took weeks for the drugs to work their way out of his system, and then he began to listen. The most effective evangelist was another inmate, who exuded a sense of peace.
Davis studied the Bible, and after about eight weeks, he says one evening he quietly gave his life to Christ.
At trial, Brewer mounted a "not guilty by reason of insanity" defense.
Davis testified that he didn't know why he killed Jo Ella Liles, that he felt as if he'd witnessed someone else committing the crime. He told jurors that demonic possession was the only explanation.
Today, Davis says, "I believe that drugs open a door for spiritual derangement and possession. ... I don't believe that a person in their right human mind does what I did."
Ron Liles didn't buy the demonic possession argument, and he doesn't now. Liles grew up in the Baptist Church and says he is still a believer, though not a regular churchgoer. He believes in demonic possession, he says, but not in this case.
When Davis testified, Liles says, he never heard him apologize.
Davis was sentenced to 20 years.
He says he was not surprised by the light sentence. Several weeks earlier, while sitting on his bunk reading his Bible, "the Lord spoke to me," Davis says. The message was "you're only going to get 20 years."
After it was announced, Liles says, Davis "had a big grin on his face. It was like he knew he had just slicked somebody."
The charges against Payne, who testified against Davis, were dropped.
Davis not only survived prison, he thrived.
Leo Miller, who served time for armed robbery, remembers hearing Davis preach. He was "a very dynamic speaker," says Miller, now a pastor himself. Davis' sermons "really resonated with all of us inmates."
Both Kastner and Miller have seen their share of convicts finding "jailhouse Jesus" only to lose religion later. But they never doubted Davis' commitment.
"It's easy in prison for a person to, I guess, play the role for a while," says Kastner. "But it's hard to play it for a long period of time."
When not working or studying the Bible, Davis made belts in the leatherwork shop to earn money for college courses.
His parents visited frequently, as did George.
George and Davis grew close – they still talk every Saturday night.
In 1983 Davis was discharged because of prison overcrowding. Not paroled, with restrictions, but discharged, his debt to society ostensibly paid.
For Davis and his supporters, his release at age 27 was more evidence of God's grace.
"I know my life is the exception," Davis says. "I don't know anybody that went to Texas [prison] with the crime I committed, and got out in any time like I did."
For the Liles family, it was another slap in the face.
"We have a criminal system," Ron Liles says. "We don't have much of a justice system."
Rebuilding a life
Davis had a huge support group and a job waiting for him at Calvary Church.
That doesn't mean his presence didn't give others pause. One member – a police officer – left the church when he was released, George says.
And longtime member Jim Guinn recalls traveling with Davis on a church trip. "I was going to sleep in this room with this guy who went to prison for murder," he recalls, adding that he had a fleeting thought: "I hope I wake up."
No one told Ron Liles that his mother's murderer was free. He heard it from a friend. Then he began to hear that Davis had been hired at Calvary and was starting to make a name for himself by giving his testimony in area churches and on local radio.
Driving down the highway one day, he saw a giant likeness of Davis on a billboard.
Liles says his reaction was: "Con artist, flim-flam man."
Later, when Davis was named youth pastor, "I wasn't really impressed," Liles says with a shrug. "There's a lot of conversions in prison."
Lon Womack, Ron Liles' stepson, says he watched a tape once of Davis' testimony but never showed it to his dad. "To watch them go around telling the story and benefit from that is just a little bit hard to swallow sometimes," he says.
Womack says his dad doesn't talk about Davis and the crime. "He's just kind of bottled it all up all these years."
Liles says he occasionally fantasized about retribution. But finally he decided, "if I'm going to have any kind of a life with my family, I have to just put this aside and go on."
The murder didn't shake his faith in God, he says. But "it caused me to re-evaluate the importance of family and time. You realize how short, maybe, time really is."
In 1988, Davis hit the road to tell his story as an evangelist.
Three years later, Cornerstone, a struggling Assemblies of God church outside Nashville called him to be its pastor.
The 250-member congregation knew about his past, but, "it was just like a perfect fit," says administrative assistant Gloria Myrick, and few, if any, give his past a second thought.
They have "heard his testimony and heard his preaching," she says, "have seen him walk the walk, talk the talk."
She's heard others say they'd never attend a church with a pastor who committed murder, which she describes as narrow-minded. "How can they know the love of God?" she wonders.
Under Davis' leadership, attendance has soared, and the church now sprawls over a rolling campus. Services, sometimes attended by state leaders, can be startling.
On the Fourth of July, fireworks erupt inside the building. On another occasion, Davis has released live chickens to make a point.
He's also controversial. Davis staunchly opposes abortion and homosexuality, and preaches that Islam is evil. He also warns about laziness and gluttony.
One topic he never touches is the death penalty. "Nobody will believe that I have an objective opinion," he says.
Davis says some criminals, including himself, deserve to die. But he opposes the death penalty. Recalling Jesus' words to those wanting to stone an adulterous woman, he says, "I don't believe we have the right to throw the stone."
As pastor of a megachurch, Davis earns an ample salary on par with his peers, according to the church auditor. He has a lovely home, with a pool and volleyball court. He enjoys vacations in Florida and New Mexico.
"You know Paul was a murderer, and yet he wrote a majority of the New Testament," he says. "Moses committed a murder. ... David was a murderer. ... If it weren't for inmates, you wouldn't have the best part of your Bible."
Who Will Jesus Damn?
Here is a partial list from just a few scripture verses:
Hypocrites (Matthew 24:51), The Unforgiving (Mark 11:26), Homosexuals (Romans 1:26, 27), Fornicators (Romans 1:29), The Wicked (Romans 1:29), The Covetous (Romans 1:29), The Malicious (Romans 1:29), The Envious (Romans 1:29), Murderers (Romans 1:29), The Deceitful (Romans 1:29), Backbiters (Romans 1:30), Haters of God (Romans 1:30), The Despiteful (Romans 1:30), The Proud (Romans 1:30), Boasters (Romans 1:30), Inventors of evil (Romans 1:30), Disobedient to parents (Romans 1:30), Covenant breakers (Romans 1:31), The Unmerciful (Romans 1:31), The Implacable (Romans 1:31), The Unrighteous (1Corinthians 6:9), Idolaters (1Corinthians 6:9), Adulterers (1Corinthians 6:9), The Effeminate (1Corinthians 6:9), Thieves (1Corinthians 6:10), Drunkards (1Corinthians 6:10), Reviler (1Corinthians 6:10), Extortioners (1Corinthians 6:10), The Fearful (Revelation 21:8), The Unbelieving (Revelation 21:8), The Abominable (Revelation 21:8), Whoremongers (Revelation 21:8), Sorcerers (Revelation 21:8), All Liars (Revelation 21:8)