The Devil and Doyle Davidson

Page 9 of 12

By now Child Protective Services had intervened. After interviewing the kids--one girl called her mother's suicide attempt "a devil's trick," according to The Dallas Morning News--CPS ruled that Dena couldn't be alone with them. Since John had to work all the time, that added another pressure. For a while, a counselor checked on Dena every day.

Carolyn Thomas harped on Dena to take her meds but would later tell Plano police that John wouldn't buy the drugs she needed consistently. Dena would take the medicine for a while, then stop. Thomas was convinced Dena was simply following her husband's lead.

"She didn't want to hurt him if it called for her to be defiant," Thomas told a detective. "I'm a Jezebel," she added, "but I keep it under control. I'm only a Jezebel when I need to be, when I need to stand up for what's right."

Referred in February for outpatient treatment, Dena was evaluated for 45 minutes, then had 15-minute follow-ups at four-week intervals. She continued to tell the psychiatrist she didn't need medication. Dena was later released from treatment.

But in March 2004, Dena had left home in the middle of the night and was found screaming on the bathroom floor of an emergency room. Worried that Dena's "spiritual church vocabulary"--meaning her religious fanaticism and talk of demons--might be misinterpreted as psychosis, John insisted that his wife be released to him.

Following CPS' admonition not to leave Dena alone with the children, John's mother stayed with them for six weeks during the summer. Deeming Dena no longer at risk, CPS closed the case in August.

Isolated and lonely, Dena wanted to work outside the home, but John forbade it. Though the oldest girl was in school, Dena had two children to care for and no emotional reserves. Thomas kept urging her to tell John what she needed.

"I don't think he liked me too much," Thomas told the detective. After yet another scolding from Thomas about Dena's medications, John told her, "Don't push me." John later told Dena, "Maybe something would happen to Carolyn."

Things like that occurred in Doyle Davidson's world. Davidson tells a story about God intervening in 1974 when he was preparing to go to Israel with a religious group. When Davidson couldn't come up with the money, another man put in his place abruptly died. Davidson got to go. Why God didn't provide the ticket instead of sending the grim reaper is unclear.

The turmoil at Water of Life began bubbling to the surface the summer after Maggie's birth. In April 2004, Davidson shocked his inner circle by declaring that, 17 years earlier, God had given him Lisa Staton as his wife. Most of them accepted it, but not without a fight, Davidson says. "They struggled, every one of them," he says. The preacher would later share the news with his television audience.

Davidson claimed his marriage to Patti was in the flesh and his marriage to Lisa, a vivacious brunette at least 20 years younger than him, was pure, "of the spirit."

Core members accused Davidson of adultery and called for him to repent; some left the church.

In June 2004, Davidson announced that God had directed him to give away his Fairfield house, appraised at $227,000. A few weeks after Maggie's murder, he would purchase a big two-story house in Plano only a few blocks from the Statons. Both the home and its elaborate furnishings were paid for by the ministry. Davidson later posted photos of the showcase home on the Internet, as if to tell Lisa her nest was ready.

The relationship boiled into the public eye on September 9, 2004. That's when Davidson went to the Statons' Plano home and demanded that Lisa come live with him. According to a police report, her husband discovered Davidson sitting on top of Lisa, his hands around her throat, trying to cast out the Jezebel spirit so that she would obey him. The Statons called police. Davidson took a swing at JR, according to the report, but JR ducked. An officer smelled alcohol on Davidson's breath and charged him with public intoxication. Davidson admits he'd been drinking but says he "absolutely" wasn't drunk. He ended up paying a $352 fine for public intoxication, but assault charges were dropped when the Statons refused to cooperate with police. Announcing to the church that JR had "betrayed" him by calling the cops, Davidson fired both of the Statons. Lisa's refusal to submit to God's plan became a regular topic of his televised sermons.

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Glenna Whitley