Steven James Murray, indicted by a Burke County, Georgia Grand Jury for the April 2016 murder of Father Rene Robert,  has agreed to plead guilty to his crime for a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Oct. 18 in Waynesboro, Georgia.

Bishop Felipe Estévez, along with the bishops of Georgia, held a news conference on Jan. 31 on the steps of the Richmond County Courthouse in Augusta, Ga. Bishop Estévez appealed to the Georgia District Attorney, who was seeking the death penalty against Father Rene’s accused killer, Steven James Murray. (Photo by St. Augustine Catholic/Woody Huband)

“I am pleased an agreement has been reached between the State of Georgia and Steven Murray,” said Bishop Felipe Estévez of the Diocese of St. Augustine. He said Murry deserves to be punished for the brutal murder of Father Robert. “This decision is just and will help Father Robert’s loved ones find closure without the anguish of enduring years of court proceedings,” said Bishop Estévez.

Father Rene Robert was a priest of the Diocese of St. Augustine. He was a merciful servant of God who ministered to anyone in need – including men and women who were incarcerated and considered to be dangerous. He strongly opposed capital punishment and in 1995 left a signed Declaration of Life with his personal records declaring that should he become a victim of a homicide, he does not want those convicted of his crime executed no matter how heinous the crime or how much he may have suffered.

The Church recognizes that the state has the right to carry out the death penalty if necessary to protect its residents; however, if non-lethal means are available to keep society safe from an aggressor, then authority must limit itself to such means. The death penalty only contributes to an ever-growing disrespect for the sacredness of human life and feeds a sense of vengeance rather than justice. Society remains safe when violent criminals are imprisoned for life without parole.

On Sept. 28, the Florida Bishops appealed to Governor Rick Scott of Florida to commute Michael Lambrix’s death sentence to a life sentence without parole. His execution is scheduled for today (Oct. 5) at 6:00 p.m. Mr. Lambrix received two death sentences for the 1983 murders of Clarence Moore and Aleisha Bryant.

The Catholic faithful and members of the community will gather in dioceses across the state to pray for the victims of violent crimes and their families, for those on death row, for an end to the use of the death penalty, and for Governor Scott as he confronts the decision to proceed with the execution.