Steven Murray set to avoid the death penalty with his plea deal that sends him away for life
A drug using, career criminal accused of killing a Florida priest who had tried to help him for months said he has reached a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty and avoid the death penalty.
Steven Murray who has been in jail since, faces charges including murder in the April 2016 shooting death of the Rev. Rene Robert, a senior priest for the Diocese of St. Augustine in northeast Florida.
In a jail house call Tuesday evening, Murray revealed that he plans to plead guilty at an October, 18 hearing in exchange for a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“It’s a lot of time, but I deserve it. Father Rene was a good man,” Murray told the Associated Press.
Murray’s victim Fr. Rene Robert, forgave in advance his eventual killer
Murray, who was 28 at the time of Robert’s death, was a repeat offender whom Robert had been trying to help for months.
Police said Murray asked the 71-year-old priest for a ride in Jacksonville, Florida, and then kidnapped him and killed him in Georgia. Murray was arrested in Aiken, South Carolina, after a multi-state manhunt, and he led police to Robert’s body in the woods near Waynesboro, Georgia.
The motive for the killing isn’t entirely clear, but Murray told the St. Augustine Record July 2016 that he had Robert in the trunk of the car in South Carolina and realized he could get in big trouble if Robert ever reported him.
The mercurial Murray has been both contrite and defiant when commenting about the case.
“I’m very sorry and if anybody really loves Father Rene, they’ll forgive me because he was a man of God and forgiveness is forgiveness,” he said in April. “I have mental problems, and I lost control of myself, and I apologize.”
“I just (expletive) freaked out and I killed him,” Murray said in a jail house interview.
A previously unrepentant Steven Murray, now pleads guilty to avoid the needle
Authorities have said Murray has twice attempted suicide in jail since his arrest.
Murray expressed both sorrow and defiance in public statements as he was taken from the courthouse after hearings last year. In postcards and calls to AP from jail, he has repeatedly said he cries over Robert’s death and that he is sorry.
“My apologies go out to the family and friends of Father Rene,” he said Tuesday. “I hope with time they can get some closure.”
Murray has said that his father abused him badly while he was growing up in South Carolina. His sister, Bobbie Jean Murray, told AP that the abuse led Murray to drugs and crime at an early age.
Ashley Shreve reportedly, dated Steven Murray for months after the two met at a hotel in Jacksonville. She introduced the killer to Fr. Rene Robert who had been trying to help her with her heroin addiction for about 10 years.
According to jacksonville.com, A year earlier Murray moved from South Carolina after a 22-month prison stint for breaking into a hardware store where he stole a truck and hauled off a trailer full of generators and lawn mowers.
He subsequently met Father Rene Robert a 71-year-old Franciscan involved in prison ministries through a girlfriend, Ashley Shreve. The couple did drugs together, and Robert often gave them money, against their families’ wishes.
Robert’s colleagues have said he was devoted to helping the poor, often scraping leftovers from plates into baggies to give to the homeless. He also had great compassion for addicts, sometimes going so far as to lend them his car while he walked home alone through dangerous neighborhoods.
Because he devoted his life to helping society’s most troubled, he was also aware that he could become a victim of violence. More than two decades before his death, he signed a “Declaration of Life,” calling for his killer to be spared execution in the event of his murder.
Catholic bishops from Georgia and Florida in January urged a Georgia prosecutor to reverse her decision to seek the death penalty Murray. Augusta Judicial Circuit District Attorney Ashley Wright was seeking the death penalty against Steven Murray in the April, 2016 killing of Catholic priest, Fr. Robert.
During a news conference outside the Richmond County Courthouse. They highlighted the signed and motorized “Declaration of Life” by Fr. Robert saying that if he were to suffer a violent death he wouldn’t want the person responsible to be executed.
That did not sway prosecutors, who have said their decision to seek the death penalty was based on the aggravated nature of the slaying.
DA Ashley Wright said she considered the facts in the case and the aggravated nature of the slaying when deciding to seek the death penalty.