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Georgia to seek death penalty on man accused of killing St. Augustine priest

Steven Murray faces charges where Father Rene Robert's body was found

Steven Murray walks to interrogation in Burke County, Georgia.
Steven Murray walks to interrogation in Burke County, Georgia.

BURKE COUNTY, Ga. – Georgia prosecutors will seek the death penalty on the man accused of killing St. Augustine priest Father Rene Robert last month.

Steven Murray, 28, was indicted Wednesday on charges of malice murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

READ: Intent to seek death penalty against Steven Murray

The state said it was seeking the death penalty because the murder occurred during other felonies, kidnapping and aggravated battery, and it was "outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman."

Robert's sister, Deborah Bedard believes Murray deserves to die for the crime.

"I still can't understand why he killed him. Murray needs to be put away," Bedard said. "I don't want to offend anyone or the church, but I think he deserves the death penalty for killing my brother."

Murray was previously denied bond in Burke County, Georgia, where Robert's body was found in a wooded part of northeast Georgia just over a week after he was last seen in St. Augustine.

Robert’s body was in such bad shape when investigators found it that they had to use dental records to make a positive ID. Burke County Sheriff Greg Coursey said Robert was shot multiple times.

At the bond hearing May 13, Assistant District Attorney Joanna Mastney shed light on what prosecutors believe happened to Robert, who was trying to help Murray.

Investigators said Robert was last seen about 1 p.m. on April 10. Mastney said sometime after that Murray asked for permission, then borrowed Robert’s car and got the priest to ride with him.

Murray finally told Robert they were leaving the state and heading to Murray’s hometown to see his children, Mastney said.

On April 11, investigators said Murray was denied access to his 13-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter, who live in Aiken County, South Carolina. 

That’s when Murray made Robert get in the trunk of his own car, according to prosecutors.

“While (Robert was) in the trunk, Murray committed multiple burglaries, stealing primarily firearms. Some of the homes he burglarized were people he knew, however, not all of them,” Mastney said.

File: Steven Murray indictment

Eventually, they came to Highway 56, near River Road in Burke County, Georgia, where prosecutors said Murray got Robert out of the trunk, shot him and left him dead on April 11 and then returned to Florida.

Murray is also charged with aggravated fleeing and attempting to elude deputies in St. Johns County after a high-speed chase into Jacksonville on April 12, where police lost Murray. A few days after he was arrested in Aiken County, South Carolina and returned to St. Augustine, investigators said Murray began to cooperate with them, leading them to the priest’s body on April 18.

In Aiken, South Carolina, where police say he crashed Robert’s car, Murray faces charges of grand larceny and unlawful possession of a firearm.

Since his arrest in late April, Murray has been held without bond.