JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The husband of a 62-year-old music teacher who was found murdered Thursday in her Panama Park home shared his grief Tuesday and pleaded for answers in his wife's killing.
Michael Liles said he and his wife, Deborah, took a romantic trip to New York City a few weekends ago and she was able to meet one of her idols, singer Josh Groban.
Liles said he's holding tight to those memories as he and their five children cope with their loss.
“We just enjoyed each other more than you can imagine. It went beyond perfect,” Liles said of the New York trip. “I got a picture of her and Josh together. He was down away from us. I hollered out, 'Mr. Groban, how about a picture with a music teacher?'”
Just weeks later, Liles came home to find his wife murdered on their kitchen floor.
“I touched the side of her face. It was so cold and stiff, but it was obvious to me she was gone,” he said. “We've had 41 fantastic years together, and I can't imagine what went through the mind of the person who felt it necessary to end her life, but he needs to know that the life he (took) was not a valueless life. There were a lot of people affected by this.”
The crime-fighting group MAD DADS is encouraging people to walk through the Liles' neighborhood at 6 p.m. Thursday and go from door to door, asking for any information that could lead investigators to whoever is responsible. The crime vigil and walk begins at 94 East 59th Street, and the community is welcome to attend.
“Keep your ears open. Somebody's going to say something,” Liles said.
He said he believes more than one person was involved in his wife's murder because, along with her car, which was found later, several items were taken from his family's home.
“The weight of some of the things they took, I don't think one person could have handled it,” Liles said. “This is more than just a 62-year-old woman found dead in her home. This is somebody taking a life that was actually an asset for the city and certainly an asset for me.”
The family plans a memorial service for Deborah at 2 p.m. Saturday at Deermeadows Baptist Church on Baymeadows Road.
Not first attack on teacher
Deborah Liles was unfortunately not a stranger to violence.
Two decades ago, she survived a brutal attack at the same house when she was about five months pregnant.
Her attacker, Curtis Head, was a career felon with 33 arrests before he went to Liles' home looking to do yardwork. When she turned him down, he broke in through her back door, tied her up, beat her and robbed her.
Head had been out of prison just 47 days when he committed the home invasion and is now spending life in prison for the attack.
“I think the best thing for his life at this point would be to eliminate the possibility of him ever doing anything like this to anyone ever again,” Deborah Liles said during the trial.
News4Jax covered the story extensively in 1993 as Deborah Liles took to the witness stand to stare down the man who brutally beat her.
“Once he put his hand around the back of my neck, excuse me, I faced death. I laid there on the couch, and I thought, 'I love being a mother of four children. I don't want it to end,'” she testified. “I have hospital bills. I have scar tissue on the inside of my mouth that may be there, but that's minimal. The impact is it has changed my perspective of life. I love life, but I had an event happen to me that should have only happened in the movies.”
Deborah Liles' family and students are shocked that something so horrible could happen twice to the same woman in the same house.
“We're not reckless, careless people,” Michael Liles said. “Both times this has happened now, it's clearly been someone who has been more focused on what they want as opposed to recognizing the value of the lives that they're hurting. You don't want to believe there's that many people out there like that, but clearly there's more than we want to believe.”
After Deborah survived in 1993, she and her husband fought to strengthen laws. When the family celebrated their first Thanksgiving after the attack, Deborah Liles spoke about the gift of life.
“With a lot of things in life, you have to come near losing it or almost lose it to appreciate it, and life is one thing that I almost lost,” she said.
On Thursday, she did lose her life, but the question her family wants answered is: Who took it?
Anyone with information on the murder is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-866-845-TIPS.