Police Arrest Suspect in Priest’s Murder

Suspect Gary Moran

Suspect Gary Moran

A 54 year-old ex-convict has been arrested on suspicion of murdering 28 year-old Rev. Kenneth Walker on June 11 and seriously injuring Father Joseph Terra at a Mission church in South Phoenix.

KPHO.com is reporting that the suspect, Gary Moran, a homeless man with an extensive criminal record, was arrested and jailed Sunday night in connection with a burglary attempt on the Mother of Mercy Mission Catholic Church in South Phoenix that left one priest dead and another seriously injured. Bond has been set at $1 million.

According to the police report, authorities were called to the Mission at 1537 W. Monroe Street after getting a 911 call from the pastor, Fr. Joseph Terra about an unknown man who had broken into the rectory. Police say Fr. Terra heard a noise coming from the courtyard behind the kitchen and went outside to investigate. He was struck several times over the head with an angle iron.

Terra reportedly then fled to his bedroom to retrieve a gun that he kept in his nightstand; however, when he attempted to shoot the suspect, he was unable to do so due to injuries to his hand. A struggle ensued, during which time Moran got the gun away from Terra and used it to shoot Walker as he came to the aid of the older priest.

By the time police arrived at the scene, Terra was found severely beaten and Walker was lying on the ground in the rectory of the church with several gunshot wounds.

Terra later told police that during the struggle with Moran, he was told to get down and to give the suspect money; however, he blacked out and claims that he does not remember making the chilling 911 call that was played by various media outlets over the weekend. On the tape, the priest is obviously out of breath and in distress as he tells the dispatcher that his fellow priest is no longer breathing.

Moran is also suspected of stealing Walker’s SUV which was found about five blocks away from the scene of the crime.

Police say the results of DNA from the window screen at the Mission, the angle iron in Walker’s vehicle, and stains inside the driver’s door belong to Moran.

According to the Associated Press (AP), the suspect had just been released from prison in April after serving eight years on charges that included aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in 2005. In that case, Moran broke into an apartment, found a steak knife, then used it to stab a man in the abdomen. He was subdued and later sentenced to 10 years in state prison where he was found guilty of more than a dozen infractions, including drug manufacturing and possession.

During a news conference yesterday afternoon, Phoenix Police Chief Daniel Garcia described Moran as a “career criminal.”

The AP also learned that a citizen told investigators that he heard Moran “bragging about beating a priest and robbing him.”

Thus far, no motive is known; however, Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. Olmstead said that police ” have not given us any impression that this happened because these were priests, they have not told us to be anymore cautious than before.”

Moran has been booked into the Maricopa County Jail on one count of first-degree murder during a crime, first-degree murder, first-degree burglary, armed robbery with a deadly weapon, vehicle theft, misconduct involving weapons and other charges.

Father Terra, who was originally listed in critical condition, has since been moved out of intensive care and is expected to make a full recovery.

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