In accused priest killer's case, bishops urge mercy, reject death penalty


Ga. (CNS) — Saying “justice needs to be tamed by mercy,” Bishop Felipe J. Estevez
of St. Augustine, Florida, and two brother bishops called Jan. 31 for the state
of Georgia to drop the death penalty in the case of accused priest killer
Steven J. Murray.

have great respect for the legal system and we believe Murray deserves
punishment for the brutal murder, but the sentence of death only perpetuates the
cycle of violence,” Bishop Estevez said at a news conference. “It is
unnecessary and denies the dignity of all persons.”

Estevez, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta and Bishop Gregory J. Hartmayer
of Savannah, along with priests, deacons and other supporters, gathered outside
the Richmond County Courthouse in Augusta to issue their appeal.

29, has admitted in interviews to killing Father Rene Robert, 71, a priest of
the Diocese of St. Augustine, who befriended him as part of his prison
ministry. He is charged with first-degree murder, which carries a sentence of
life or death.

April 11, Murray kidnapped Father Robert, forced him into the trunk of his car
and then allegedly shot him multiple times in rural Georgia. Murray was arrested in South
Carolina driving Robert’s stolen car.

Attorney Ashley Wright said she would seek the death penalty against Murray
despite pleas for a life sentence from the church and Father Robert himself. In
1995, Father Robert signed and had notarized a “Declaration of Life,” stating
that he opposed the death penalty for any killer. It was kept in his personnel

stated that should he die as a result of a violent crime, he did not want the individual
or individuals found guilty of homicide for his killing to be subject to, or
put in jeopardy of, the death penalty under any circumstances, no matter how
heinous their crime or how much he may have suffered.

has recently been named a Superior Court judge. After the news conference, the
bishops talked privately to Hank Syms, acting district attorney, and Bishop Estevez
gave him petitions with 7,400 signatures.

Hartmayer spoke on behalf his religious order, the Franciscans. Father Robert
was ordained a Franciscan and later became a diocesan priest who
lived in the spirit of the religious order, he said.

Robert shows us what the Gospel teaches about being merciful,” Bishop Hartmayer
said. “He understood the plight of the poor, the violent, the sociopath. He
treated them with compassion. He understood the risks and dangers of
ministering to convicts. He died as a martyr of mercy.”

Gregory said he was joining Bishop Estevez’s appeal for mercy.

know that every human life comes from the hand of God and has dignity that is
never lost, that can’t be compromised,” Archbishop Gregory said. “No human life
loses its dignity.”

bishops said that if Murray is convicted, he could be sentenced to life without

hope if he is granted a life sentence that he find within his own heart and
spirit to ask for God’s forgiveness. That could take many years, but we are
asking that he be given time to do it.

do it because we love our faith, we love our country, and we hope our nation
will take the lead in preserving, defending and protecting every human life.”

Gregory said if their appeal is turned down, “we will work harder. We won’t be
deterred by a negative decision. We will be reinvigorated to work harder.”

and deacons from the three dioceses joined the bishops.

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