The lead story of The Dallas Morning News on Sunday was about a man named Maury Davis, who is today the pastor of a huge megachurch in Nashville. Cornerstone Church, which is actually in nearby Madison, has over 6,000 members and another 125,000 who watch on TV every Sunday.
Each sermon can be seen across the sprawling grounds on Jumbo-tron TVs and even an orchestra plays. There is also a massive outreach program that includes running and motorcycle clubs.
But the story wasn’t about the meteoric rise of this Southern evangelist. It focused far more on the fact the same Maury Davis, on Jan. 27, 1975, brutally killed a woman named Jo Ella Liles in cold blood. Mrs. Liles was showing an empty house to Davis and a friend – both reportedly hyped on drugs - when Davis “snapped,” stabbing the kind and gentle lady before viciously slashing her throat.
Since the murder, Davis has become something of a Christian “superstar.” He got out of prison after just eight years, this due to over-crowding, and today he has been married for 23 years, has four children, and what a church spokesman says “is an ample salary on par with his peers.”
Rev. Davis also has his own website where, for just $199.99, you can download all of his sermons. The cost is usually $299.99 so the lesser amount is “for a limited time only.” His website is different from the church’s, but there are links to one another.
That known, it was the only son of his victim who, in yesterday’s paper, called Maury Davis “Satan’s angel.” “I’m seeing somebody who had great success at my expense, at my mother’s expense,” Ron Liles told the Dallas reporter, Diane Jennings. “How can you not feel a little hostile?”
Both the stories of Davis’ fall and of his redemption are fascinating. After the murder occurred in a quiet section of Irving, the 18-year-old Davis took his bloodied clothes to the cleaners and then casually went to lunch. When he was arrested the next day, he called his dad and said, “Daddy, I’m in jail for murder. And I’m guilty.”
Hours later, his father sent a prominent criminal attorney to see Davis and, according to yesterday’s newspaper account, here is what was said:
“Maury, it has been 24 hours since you killed this woman,” the attorney, Dennis Brewster said. “You don’t seem that upset about it.”
“Yeah, “ Davis said, “I didn’t even know that old lady.”
“Well, it’s kind of like if you run over a dog or a cat,” Brewer said.
“No, man,” Davis said, “I like dogs and cats.”
With that chilling conversation, Maury Davis went to trial and was quickly given 20 years. Because of exemplary behavior, over-crowded prison conditions earned him a walk, allowing him to leave only eight years later without any parole restrictions.
When Davis was released at age 27, he began working as the janitor at Calvary Church in Irving and soon married the church’s piano player. The day of the wedding, he became the youth pastor at the church and, in 1988, left to become a fulltime evangelist.
In 1991 Cornerstone Church, on Old Hickory Boulevard in Madison, was a failing church with just 250 members on the rolls, but, even then, they didn’t care much about where Maury Davis had been – it was where he was going. Gloria Myrick, a secretary at the church, said it best. “We have heard his testimony and heard his preaching. We have seen him walk the walk, talk the talk.”
So let’s hear the talk: “What I did, you can never fix,” said the pastor. “There is not reparation, restitution. There isn’t anything you can do. Knowing my life still brings pain to people is a bitter pill to swallow.”
Asked about his past, Davis said, “My experience with God is my experience with God. You know Paul was a murderer, and yet he wrote the majority of the New Testament. Moses committed a murder. David was a murderer. If it weren’t for inmates, you wouldn’t have the best part of the Bible. That’s a tongue in cheek statement, but it’s true.”
So maybe the best verdict comes from John Looper, who, as a police detective back in 1975, is the guy that first put the handcuffs on Maury Davis’ wrists. “It took a lot of guts to do what Davis has done since he left prison.
“He’s either making a real good living and he’s conned a lot of people – or he’s truly converted. And, it’s not up to me to judge.”