ATLANTA – A man accused of killing a Florida priest in Georgia pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges including murder after reaching a deal with prosecutors to spare him the death penalty.
Steven Murray, 30, was charged in the April 2016 shooting death of the Rev. Rene Robert, a priest with the Diocese of St. Augustine in northeast Florida who had been trying to help him.
Augusta Judicial Circuit District Attorney Natalie Paine said by phone that Murray pleaded guilty and was sentenced to serve life in prison without the possibility of parole for a murder charge. He also received two separate five-year sentences, to be served consecutively, for two gun charges.
Sparing Murray from execution is the outcome that Robert likely would have wanted if he could have had a say.
Murray met Robert through a girlfriend, Ashley Shreve. The couple did drugs together, and Robert often gave them money, against their families' wishes.
The 71-year-old priest devoted his life to helping the poor, often scraping leftovers from plates into baggies to give to the homeless, his colleagues have said. 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 the death penalty in the event of his murder.
Paine said Murray definitely deserved the death penalty based on the crimes he had committed. But the document Robert had signed was one of the things her team considered — along with the facts of the case and information received from the families — when deciding to offer Murray a plea deal.
"Steven Murray getting the death penalty would have been insult to injury based upon what Father Rene would have wanted," Paine said. "There's no great outcome to this, but in light of all the circumstances and all the things that we weighed in arriving at this decision, this was the right thing to happen."
Reached by phone after the hearing, Adam Levin, an attorney for Murray, declined to comment.
Murray called The Associated Press from prison last week to talk about the plea deal, and said, "It's a lot of time, but I deserve it. Father Rene was a good man."