PHOENIX – Police have arrested an ex-convict in an attack that left one priest dead and another injured at a Roman Catholic church in Phoenix, connecting forensic evidence from the crime scene with the suspect.
Gary Michael Moran, 54, was being held Monday on suspicion of first-degree murder, burglary and armed robbery, among others charges, police said.
Moran was released from prison in April after serving about eight years on charges that included aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and burglary, court records show.
In the 2005 case, police said, Moran entered the apartment of someone he didn't know, picked up a steak knife, went into a bedroom and stabbed a man in the abdomen without provocation before being subdued. He was sentenced to 10 years in state prison.
During his time in prison, Moran was found guilty of more than a dozen infractions, including four for drug manufacturing and possession, the Department of Corrections records show.
Police spokesman Sgt. Steve Martos announced the arrest but provided few details ahead of a midday news conference.
The priests were attacked Wednesday in the rectory of the Mother of Mercy Mission. The Rev. Kenneth Walker, 28, was shot and killed and the Rev. Joseph Terra, 56, was badly beaten. Terra was able to give Walker last rites after the assault.
The news of the arrest came just as a Mass was to be held for Walker at another church in Phoenix.
"We're relieved that he's not out there doing it again and we hope some good comes out of it for him," Walker's stepsister, Sasha Keys, said of the arrest. She said nearly $42,000 in donations had poured in from around the country.
"It was incredible," she said. "I'm still getting letters in the mail with checks."
Police previously said Terra gave them a limited description of the suspect. Detectives said they were running forensic tests on evidence collected at the scene of the assault and from Walker's vehicle, which was found abandoned several blocks from the church near the state Capitol.
Police said last week they were unsure if there was only one suspect or whether robbery was the motive in the attack. Martos declined to say whether there was forced entry.
Terra was moved out of a hospital intensive care unit Saturday and is expected to make a full recovery. The Rev. Carl Gismondi, a pastor visiting from San Diego, conducted Mass at the priests' church Sunday and said he had visited his fellow clergyman at the hospital.
"He was in good spirits," Gismondi said after the service.
Walker was born in upstate New York, had 10 siblings and was drawn to the priesthood after attending traditional Latin Mass with his family in high school. He later joined the seminary, made good grades and enjoyed playing soccer, said the Rev. Joseph Lee, academic dean at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Nebraska.
Walker eventually joined a Catholic order that specializes in Latin Mass and became a priest in downtown Phoenix. He recently officiated a younger sibling's wedding in Kansas — the last time he saw many relatives.