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Everyone at Christ Church Episcopal Cathedral knew that Michael Davis was strange.
A looming, solitary figure, Davis roamed the hallways and sanctuary of the downtown church for years, mumbling about the end of the world and the Mark of the Beast, preoccupied with his own personal visions of the Apocalypse.
Davis rarely stayed at any of the homeless shelters downtown; he slept on the streets, and after breakfast and coffee at the church he usually stayed there until late afternoon.
He talked to himself, sometimes loudly, and was obsessed with the Book of Revelation. He stood in front of the altar and prayed out loud to the statue of the crucified Christ hanging on the wall. Other homeless men who frequented the church gave him the nickname "Preacher." He often stood behind a glass door for long minutes at a time and stared out into the church hallway, a habit the church staff found unnerving.
Despite his physical presence -- Davis is more than six feet tall and weighs between 200 and 250 pounds -- he was often teased by other homeless men. He was reprimanded almost daily for sleeping on church pews or smoking inside the building. He had once taken his shoes off and put them on the altar. Staff members suspected that he urinated in church wastebaskets.
Even among the dozens of other homeless men who frequent the cathedral, many with mental problems of their own, Davis's eccentricities were noticeable, say those who knew him best. He was never considered a serious physical threat, but he was a persistent-enough nuisance that he was asked to leave more than once. Each time, he always drifted back after a month or two away.
In December, however, after consistently breaking minor rules, some members of the church staff were ready to ban the 48-year-old Davis for good. The church secretary, Carol Bledsoe, and building manager, Jim McGahey, resisted those efforts.
"Carol and I fought to keep him here," McGahey says. "He really had no place to go. Even though there are other agencies around here, he never took advantage of them.... We're the only place he tended to hang out. Carol and I said, 'If he doesn't hang here, he'll be out in the cold.' We kind of asked them to put up with him."
Despite his outrageous behavior, they were convinced that Davis wasn't a threat. They didn't think he was capable of violence.
They were dead wrong.
What neither Bledsoe nor McGahey knew was that Michael Davis had a lengthy and violent criminal record. That record stretched back at least as early as 1985, when Davis was arrested for stealing two purses from the downtown Famous-Barr. Davis, who was homeless at the time of his arrest and listed the New Life Evangelical Center as his address, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and was sentenced to 60 days in jail and ordered to pay a $26 fine and court costs.
Three months later, Davis was arrested again, this time for third-degree sexual abuse, another misdemeanor. According to court records, Davis had "sexual contact" with a woman who lived in the same apartment building he did, on North Ninth Street. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 60 days in jail.
In November 1985, Davis, again back on the street, was charged with stealing for taking silverware from Dillard's. Again he pleaded guilty; again he got 60 days.
In 1988, Davis's record caught up with him after he snatched several women's scarves from Famous-Barr and punched a security guard. After pleading guilty to felony theft and misdemeanor assault, with his two previous theft convictions, he was sentenced to three years in prison. In 1991, as soon as he was back out, Davis was charged with stealing five cartons of cigarettes from a downtown 7-Eleven and a deep-fryer from Dillard's. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year in jail.
Between 1979 and 1993, he was also treated at least three times for depression, alcohol abuse and an antisocial-personality disorder. He told doctors in 1993 that he drank every day and smoked crack. In 1988, during court proceedings for the stealing charges that would land Davis a three-year prison sentence, his public defender, Lisa K. Clover, sought a psychological examination for her client. Judge Evelyn Baker denied the request. Baker says now that she can't remember the case or why she refused to allow a mental-health evaluation for Davis.
By the end of the 1990s, Davis, like many homeless men, was still getting arrested on a regular basis. But his offenses were becoming more and more violent. In 1998, while standing in line at lunchtime at a restaurant on Washington Avenue, Davis yelled at a cashier. When another customer told Davis to stop calling the cashier obscene names, Davis punched the man in the nose and kicked him. Davis pleaded guilty to third-degree assault and was sentenced to 40 days in jail. On Valentine's Day 2000, Davis approached a woman in line at the Chinese Wok on Locust Street and asked her to perform oral sex on him. When she refused, he punched her in the mouth. He was again charged with third-degree assault and sentenced to 30 days in jail.
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