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Man pleads guilty in killing of priest at Phoenix church

PHOENIX (AP) — A homeless ex-convict has pleaded guilty to murder and aggravated assault in the 2014 shooting death of a Catholic priest and the beating of another clergyman during a burglary at a Phoenix church.

The plea deal reached Friday spares 57-year-old Gary Michael Moran the possibility of a death sentence. Instead, the agreement calls for Moran to serve a life sentence in the death of the Rev. Kenneth Walker and the beating of the Rev. Joseph Terra at the Mother of Mercy Mission.

“This plea ensures Moran will spend the rest of his natural life in prison and will not harm anyone in our community again,” said Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, whose office prosecuted Moran.

Angela L. Walker, one of Moran’s attorneys, declined to comment on the factors that led her client to make the guilty pleas.

The attack occurred after Terra opened the kitchen door of the rectory to investigate noises in a courtyard.

Authorities say Moran beat Terra with a metal rod. Terra made it to his bedroom and retrieved his .357-caliber gun but was unable to fire before the attacker grabbed it, forced the priest to his knees and demanded money, according to court records.

Terra soon blacked out. When he regained consciousness, 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.

Moran was arrested four days after the attack after police say his DNA matched forensic evidence collected from the scene.

Moran had bragged about beating and robbing a priest and that a woman told them Moran had given her a bag that contained a camera belonging to one of the clergyman, authorities said.

Moran has acknowledged his involvement in the crime, though he initially didn’t remember what happened, authorities said.

Moran was sentenced to more than four years in prison after pleading guilty in 2001 to misconduct involving weapons. He also was convicted in two 1989 burglaries.

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Follow Jacques Billeaud at twitter.com/jacquesbilleaud. His work can be found at https://www.apnews.com/search/jacques%20billeaud.

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