Father Rene's final wishes shared at anti-death penalty event

Steven Murray charged with murder of St. Augustine priest Father Rene Robert


ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – Seven months after a popular St. Augustine priest was killed, one of his colleagues shared his final wishes from the pages on which they were written.

Parishioners of the Diocese of St. Augustine co-hosted the event "Cities for Life" Wednesday evening at the Shrine at Mission Nombre de Dios on San Marco Avenue.

The goal of the event was to bring people together in an effort to abolish the death penalty. As part of that, Father John Gillespie from San Sebastian Catholic Church used Father Rene Robert as an example.

Gillespie read straight from Father Rene's testament, declaring his opposition to the death penalty.

"Therefore, I declare that should I die, as a result of a violent crime, I request that the person or persons found guilty of homicide for my killing not be subject to or put in jeopardy of the death penalty under any circumstances no matter how heinous their crime or how much they may have suffered," he said. 

Parishioners are trying to save the life of the man charged with killing Father Rene. Prosecutors have filed notice they are seeking the death penalty.

Steven Murray pleaded not guilty to malice murder in the April death of Father Rene Robert. Murray is being held without bond in Burke County.

Parishioners of the Diocese of St. Augustine have been signing a petition urging that Murray not face the death penalty. They say this is in line with the wishes of Father Rene if he were to be in a situation like this. They say he believed whoever killed Robert should not have their life taken.

RELATED: Parishioners petition to keep man charged in priest's murder off death row

Robert, 71, as everyone called him, was last seen April 10. He was working with Murray, who had recently gotten out of jail. On April 12, the St. Johns Sheriff’s Office did a wellness check. The next day, Murray was allegedly seen driving the priest’s car, leading police on a chase. That car was found crashed in a wooded area in Aiken, South Carolina.

After Murray was arrested, he took detectives to Father Rene’s remains in Georgia. Although the police say Father Rene’s body was in bad shape, parishioners want to make it known they support Father Rene’s wishes and want Murray’s life spared.

“Father Rene was strongly opposed to capital punishment and left in his files, written 20 some years ago, the important letter in which he says that if anyone should do me harm in the future and that person is facing judgment. 'I do not want, in my name, the capital punishment death sentence,'" Gillespie said.

Although motions will begin Friday, the trial isn’t expected to start for another two years.