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PHOENIX – A homeless ex-convict was spared the death penalty Friday and sentenced to life in prison for killing a Catholic priest nearly three years ago with another priest's gun at a Phoenix church and beating another clergyman with a metal rod.
Gary Michael Moran, 57, received the sentence that was called for in a plea agreement in the death of the Rev. Kenneth Walker and the beating of the Rev. Joseph Terra at the Mother of Mercy Mission. He had pleaded guilty in February to charges of murder and aggravated assault.
Moran went to the church to steal what he could find, authorities have said, and Superior Court Judge Peter Reinstein told him during his sentencing that the two priests would have given food and clothing if he had simply asked for help.
"You decided to attack them. Obviously, this is the result," Reinstein said.
Terra was beaten with the rod after he opened the kitchen door of the church's rectory to find out why noises were coming from a court yard.
The priest went to his bedroom to get his .357-caliber handgun but Moran grabbed it, forced the priest to his knees and demanded money, according to court records.
Terra blacked out, regained consciousness and discovered that Walker had been shot. Walker died later that night.
Moran stole a camera from the priests and fled in Walker's car, which was found abandoned a few blocks from the church, authorities said.
Terra was in court to witness the sentencing, but said nothing to the judge and did not speak with reporters.
Nicholas Luber, Walker's brother, told the judge that he did not know if Moran understood the seriousness of his actions.
"Repent and seek forgiveness," Luber told Moran.
John Kelly, a lawyer who addressed the court on behalf of Terra, the Walker family and the diocese, spoke about Walker's humility and deep faith and expressed support for the plea agreement that eliminated the possibility of a death penalty for Moran.
"We pray for the healing of all victims of violent crimes," Kelly said.
Moran looked down throughout most of the hearing and did not speak.
Angela Walker, one of his attorneys, said he "is very much haunted by the acts he has done."
"I don't know if that's any help to the victims. But he hoped to express that today," she said.
Moran sought treatment for his mental health issues the day before the attack, Walker said.
Prosecutor Patricia Stevens said Moran had mental health prescription medication with him after the attack, but also had been using methamphetamine.
Moran was arrested four days after the attack after police said his DNA matched forensic evidence collected from the scene.
Moran also bragged about beating and robbing a priest, authorities said. He also gave a woman a bag that contained a camera belonging to one of the clergyman, they said.
Moran in 2001 was sentenced to more than four years in prison after pleading guilty to misconduct involving weapons. He also was convicted in two 1989 burglaries.
Follow Jacques Billeaud at twitter.com/jacquesbilleaud. His work can be found at https://www.apnews.com/search/jacques%20billeaud.