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‘Career Criminal’ Charged With Murdering Missing Priest

Church members attend services at Sacred Heart Catholic Church for missing priest Rene Robert. Members of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Fleming Island, Fla. where Henderson knew Robert from his time there. South Carolina law enforcement authorities said Thursday that a "person of interest" was arrested while driving a car belonging to the missing Roman Catholic priest — 300 miles from where he disappeared in St. Augustine, Fla. (Bob Self/The Florida Times-Union via AP)
In this arrest photo made available by the Aiken County Sheriff's Office, SC., shows Steven James Murray of Jacksonville, Fla., on Thursday, April 14, 2016. Murray is a person of interest in the disappearance of a 71-year-old Catholic priest from St. Augustine, Fla. Murray was taken into custody while driving a car in Aiken, SC., belonging to Rev. Rene Robert. (Aiken County Sheriff's Office via AP)
In this arrest photo made available by the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office, SC., shows Steven James Murray of Jacksonville, Fla., on Thursday, April 14, 2016. Murray is a person of interest in the disappearance of a 71-year-old Catholic priest from St. Augustine, Fla. Murray was taken into custody while driving a car in Aiken, SC., belonging to Rev. Rene Robert. (Aiken County Sheriff’s Office via AP)
This photo provided by St. Johns County Sheriffs Office shows Father Rene Wayne Robert, a Roman Catholic priest in Florida whose body was found in rural east Georgia, who dedicated his life to working with prisoners and society's downtrodden. He was reported missing April 12 after church officials became concerned when he missed an appointment. (FHSMV/St. Johns County Sheriffs Office via AP)
This photo provided by St. Johns County Sheriffs Office shows Father Rene Wayne Robert, a Roman Catholic priest in Florida whose body was found in rural east Georgia, who dedicated his life to working with prisoners and society’s downtrodden. He was reported missing April 12 after church officials became concerned when he missed an appointment. (FHSMV/St. Johns County Sheriffs Office via AP)

ATLANTA (AP) — A man described as a “career criminal” who led authorities to the body of a missing Florida priest has been charged with murder in Georgia, a law enforcement official said Thursday.

The suspect was identified as Steve James Murray, 28, of Jacksonville, Florida, said Scott Dutton, a spokesman with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Dutton said. On Thursday, dental records were used to confirm that the body found in Georgia is that of the missing priest, the GBI said in a statement.

Robert had dedicated his life to working with prisoners and society’s downtrodden, a calling police said put him in contact with his killer. Robert may have been trying to help Murray, who was recently released from jail, authorities have said.

“There are more details through interviews that will hopefully clarify some of those issues,” Dutton said.

As he was led from a Georgia courthouse on Wednesday, Murray told news reporters that he’s “very sorry” and asked for forgiveness.

“If anybody really loves Father Rene, they’ll forgive me because he was a man of God and forgiveness is forgiveness,” he said in video aired by local TV stations. “I have mental problems, and I lost control of myself and I apologize.”

The body was found in a heavily wooded area of Burke County, in east Georgia, where Murray is being held without bond, Dutton said. Police say Murray led authorities to the body.

Murray was arrested April 13 in Aiken, South Carolina, while driving the priest’s Toyota Corolla. Investigators believe Robert was killed the evening of April 10.

Murray had several guns, including a double-barreled shotgun, a pump-action rifle and several BB guns; as well as jewelry, cash, medication and merchandise, according to the arrest warrant from South Carolina.

Robert, 71, a Roman Catholic priest for the Diocese of St. Augustine, was reported missing April 12 after not showing up for an appointment.

Authorities believe the suspect kidnapped the priest, took him to Georgia in his own car and killed him there, but the motive for the killing remains unclear.

In Florida, St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar called Murray a “career criminal.” He had been released from the Duval County Jail in Jacksonville on April 6 following a March 22 arrest for operating a vehicle with a suspended license. Murray also broke into homes in South Carolina before his arrest, Shoar said.

Shoar said he knew Robert from the priest’s ministry to prison inmates.

“He was out there ministering to people everyone else gave up on: prostitutes, convicts, drug addicts,” Shoar said in an undated article posted after Robert’s death on the Diocese of St. Augustine website. “When I warned him, he told me, ‘I am doing what God is telling me to do,’ and I believed him. He died doing what he loved.”

___

Associated Press Writer Jason Dearen in Gainesville, Florida, contributed to this report.

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One comment

  1. Maybe this career criminal is one of the Americans who obama has put back to work.
    .

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