UPDATE | Murray to spend life in prison without parole in death of Florida priest

Published: Oct. 5, 2017 at 12:03 PM EDT
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Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017

(News 12 at 6 O'Clock / NBC 26 News at 7)

WAYNESBORO, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) – Today more than ever we saw two families in one courtroom wrought with despair over one person's actions.

One family trying to grieve and come to grips with what’s happened to their loved one.

And the other feeling happy he has his life, and unhappy he'll be spending the rest of it in jail.

Emotions ran high outside and inside the courtroom where Steven Murray pleaded guilty to killing Father Rene Robert.

Steven Murray was sentenced to life in prison without parole, a fate Judge Blanchard says is all due to Father Rene Robert's wish to spare his killer's life.

"Rene is speaking from the grave..."

In front of his family and Father Roberts family, Steven Murray apologizes.

Murray says, "First I want to apologize to Father Rene's family, I know they want to know why and what happened but I can’t give you an answer."

Father Robert’s nephew Shawn McAndrews was in court to hear those words.

While he believes his uncle has already forgiven Murray, McAndrews is not so quick to trust Murray’s remorse.

"No, not really. I’m glad he got his wish. But I don't know if we ever will."

District Attorney Natalie Paine echoes the sentiment.

"No, I don't believe he's remorseful. I believe he is scared for himself."

A family who was at first happy to see Murray, left in tears after hearing details of their abusive childhood and the hours leading up to Murray shooting the priest in the chest and head.

"We had a rough past, you don't know what we went through."

Judge Blanchard told Murray he will have the rest of his life to think about the kind of man Father Rene Robert was, and how without his declaration of life he would surely be facing the death penalty.

WAYNESBORO, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Priest killer Steven Murray has agreed to plead guilty to all the charges he faces in the death of Florida Priest Father Rene Robert.

Steven Murray was escorted into the court just after 1 p.m. Wednesday; not before yelling to his sisters, aunt, and pastor standing outside the court that he loved them.

The district attorney told the court that the state and Murray’s legal team reached an agreement that he would plead guilty. The DA said Father Robert picked up Steven Murray from a home in Jacksonville. Murray reportedly made Father Robert get in the trunk of the car while he was driving to see his kids in Aiken.

The district attorney said Father Robert was talking to Murray from the trunk of the car, telling him that he was going to get in trouble. Murray pulled over on Highway 56 to allow Father Robert to go to the bathroom. It was then Murray approached Father Robert from behind, shot and missed, and then shot Robert on his left side and then shot him in the head.

Murray’s legal team maintains that Murray’s upbringing was quote—hellish. His father reportedly taught him incest, and raped him as a child. Murray was also allegedly forced to drink urine.

Murray told the court that he was sorry and asked for forgiveness. He said he hopes everybody finds peace with this.

The district attorney told the court that Father Rene Robert did have a "Declaration of Life" and that Robert's life was dedicated to restoring addicts.

Shawn McAndrews, Father Robert’s nephew spoke to the court on behalf of Robert’s sister, saying that Robert “did not deserve to have his life taken away in the manner it was.”

Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017

ATLANTA (AP/WRDW/WAGT) — Accused Florida priest killer Steven Murray told the Associated Press that he has reached a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty and avoid the death penalty.

Augusta Judicial Circuit District Attorney Natalie Paine confirmed in an email Wednesday that Murray has a hearing on Oct. 18 but said she couldn't comment on it. Adam Levin, an attorney for Murray, said by email that he also couldn't comment.

Steven Murray faces charges including murder in the April 2016 shooting death of the Rev. Rene Robert, a senior priest for the Diocese of St. Augustine in northeast Florida. Murray told The Associated Press in a call from jail Tuesday evening that he plans to plead guilty at an Oct. 18 hearing in exchange for a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

"It's a lot of time, but I deserve it. Father Rene was a good man," Murray told AP.

Murray, who was 28 at the time of Robert's death, was a repeat offender whom Robert had been trying to help for months. Police said Murray asked the 71-year-old priest for a ride in Jacksonville, Florida, and then kidnapped him and killed him in Georgia. Murray was arrested in Aiken, South Carolina, after a multistate manhunt, and he led police to Robert's body in the woods near Waynesboro, Georgia.

The motive for the killing isn't entirely clear.

Murray told the St. Augustine Record for a story published in July 2016 that he had Robert in the trunk of the car in South Carolina and realized he could get in big trouble if Robert ever reported him.

"I just (expletive) freaked out and I killed him," Murray told the newspaper in an interview from jail.

Speaking more generally, Murray has told AP that he suffers from mental health issues and wanted to cause pain because of hurt he had suffered in his life.

Authorities have said Murray has twice attempted to kill himself in jail since his arrest.

Murray expressed both sorrow and defiance in public statements as he was taken from the courthouse after hearings last year. In postcards and calls to AP from jail, he has repeatedly said he cries over Robert's death and that he is sorry.

"My apologies go out to the family and friends of Father Rene," he said Tuesday. "I hope with time they can get some closure."

Murray has said that his father abused him badly while he was growing up in South Carolina. His sister, Bobbie Jean Murray, told AP that the abuse led Murray to drugs and crime at an early age.

He met Robert through a girlfriend, Ashley Shreve. The couple did drugs together, and Robert often gave them money, against their families' wishes.

Robert's colleagues have said he was devoted to helping the poor, often scraping leftovers from plates into baggies to give to the homeless. He also had great compassion for addicts, sometimes going so far as to lend them his car while he walked home alone through dangerous neighborhoods.

Because he devoted his life to helping society's most troubled, he was also aware that he could become a victim of violence. More than two decades before his death, he signed a "Declaration of Life," calling for his killer to be spared execution in the event of his murder.

That did not sway prosecutors, who have said their decision to seek the death penalty was based on the aggravated nature of the slaying.

News 12 will be in the courtroom on Wednesday, October 18 and we will bring you updates.

Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017

RICHMOND COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- The man accused of killing a Florida priest and dumping his body in the woods will have a hearing this month.

Steven Murray will go before a judge on October 18. The last time Steven Murray was in court was back in January. Previously, in September 2016, Murray pled not guilty to the murder of Father Rene Robert from the Diocese of St. Augustine in Florida.

Some conflicting reports have come out Thursday morning about the case.

According to a news release sent out by Bishop Felip Estevez with the Diocese, Murray had agreed to a guilty plea in the crime for a sentence of life in prison with no possible parole. This is information a spokesperson from the Diocese says it obtained from the late priest's sister, Debbie Bedard after she spoke with a Victim's Assistance Advocate with the District Attorney's Office in Augusta.

However, when News 12 reached out to District Attorney Natalie Paine, we were told that Murray

has not

entered a guilty plea.

In a statement, Paine tells us that Bedard and the others at the Diocese are "not parties to this action and as such, they are not privy to information regarding the case while it is pending."

We are following up with the parties involved and we will update you as soon as we learn more.