Man faces charges in Fla's priest's killing

Posted at 9:46 AM, Apr 21, 2016

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia authorities have filed a murder charge against a man described as a "career criminal" who led authorities to a body believed to be that of a missing Florida priest, a law enforcement official said Thursday morning.

Steve James Murray, 28, of Jacksonville, Florida, faces a first-degree murder charge, Georgia Bureau of Investigation spokesman Scott Dutton told The Associated Press.

An autopsy found that the victim — believed to be the Rev. Rene Wayne Robert of St. Augustine, Florida — was shot multiple times, Dutton said.

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

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

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 in South Carolina while driving the priest's Toyota Corolla.

Murray had several guns, including a double-barrel shotgun, a pump-action rifle and several BB guns, according to the arrest warrant from South Carolina. Murray also had jewelry, cash, medication and merchandise that had been reported stolen, it states.

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

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. It's believed Robert was introduced to Murray by a young woman the priest had been counseling.

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

All indications are that the body found is that of the missing priest, but Dutton said the medical examiner will await dental records from Florida before making the identification absolutely certain.

"A lot of that has to do with the condition of the body when it was recovered," he said, adding that warm weather in east Georgia and the location where the priest was found can contribute to decomposition.

It wasn't known whether Murray has an attorney.


Associated Press Writer Jason Dearen contributed to this report.