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Thousands Petition To Prevent Priest’s Alleged Killer From Receiving Death Penalty

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In 1995, Rev. Rene Robert declared that if he were to die in a violent act, his killer should not be executed.

Steven Murray is now under consideration for execution if he is found guilty of murdering Robert, whose body police found in April near Waynesboro, Georgia, according to the Associated Press.

As of Friday, 7,185 people have signed a petition, started by Felipe Estévez, a bishop with the diocese of St Augustine, to make sure Murray will not receive the death penalty, said Kathleen Bagg, director of communications for the diocese.

The petition will be presented to the Augusta, Ga. District Attorney on Jan. 31 after a 11 a.m. press conference outside of the Richmond County Courthouse, Bagg said.

“It will put some public pressure on the DA in Georgia to reconsider her stance,” she said. “We’re asking her to take into consideration the wishes of the victim and the victim’s family.”

Robert, who was 71, was a senior priest for the Diocese of St. Augustine. All 62 churches that fall under the diocese received the petition, Bagg said.

In April 2016, Murray was arrested in South Carolina in connection with Robert’s murder, according to the Associated Press. The district attorney released a notice to place Murray under consideration for the death penalty in May on the basis that Murray shot Robert during a kidnapping, Robert was killed for money or something of value and because “it involved torture, depravity of mind or aggravated battery on the victim,” according to the Florida Times Union.

In his declaration of life, Robert explicitly stated he did not want anyone going to death row if he was murdered, “no matter how heinous their crimes, or how much he may have suffered,” Baggs said.

Rev. Marek Dzien, pastor at the Saint Augustine Church in Gainesville, said more than 100 members of the church signed the petition over the past two weeks. Dzien said he was glad parishioners had the chance to voice their concerns.

“Of course we are against the death penalty,” he said.

Dzien worked with Robert at the Saint Augustine diocese from 2009 to 2011, he said. In death, he hopes Robert’s wishes will be honored.

“This is something that we stand for, that we think is correct,” he said.

About Katelyn Newberg

Katelyn Newberg is a reporter for WUFT news. She can be reached at knewberg@ufl.edu, on her cell phone at 407-766-2820 or on Twitter @k_newberg.

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