Police arrest suspect in deadly Phoenix church assault

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 16, 2014 3:32 PM

By Daniel Wallis

(Reuters) - Phoenix police have arrested a man convicted of a violent burglary in the murder of a 29-year-old priest who was killed and his pastor badly injured during a break-in at a Catholic church last week, authorities said on Monday.

Police said DNA evidence linked 54-year-old Gary Michael Moran to the scene, and that he had admitted to investigators being involved in a struggle at the Mater Misericordiae (Mother of Mercy) Mission church.

Moran, who was released from prison less than two months ago, faces charges including first-degree murder, attempted murder, armed robbery and theft.

"He is a career criminal, a violent felony offender," Phoenix Police Chief Daniel Garcia told reporters.

"The suspect made admissions to his involvement in the crime ... He admitted to the struggle, and ultimately invoked his right to remain silent."

Police say Moran served five years for a previous burglary in which he entered a home and stabbed a male homeowner. He was released by the Department of Corrections on April 24.

"Since that time he's been living primarily in the streets, sometimes at homeless shelters," Garcia said.

"But the fact is, he immediately went back to his business of criminal activity."

The authorities said Moran was arrested on Sunday night, but gave no other details of his detention. A police mug shot showed a man with long, unkempt, dark hair.

Last Wednesday night's attack, which took place in the living quarters of the church, was first described as a burglary.

On Monday, Garcia said detectives believed it was a crime of opportunity, and that the priests had surprised their assailant in the act.

The slain man was the Reverend Kenneth Walker, an assistant pastor. The injured priest was the Reverend Joseph Terra. Church officials said Terra performed the last rites on his dying colleague, despite being critically injured himself.

Detectives had canvassed the streets around the church since the attack, studying closed-circuit television footage from local businesses and encouraging any members of the public with information to get in touch.

Both priests belonged to a religious order called the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter. Church officials said over the weekend that Terra was expected to make a full recovery.

(Reporting by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Eric Beech, Peter Cooney and Jim Loney)