Man Arrested in Murder of Young Phoenix Priest Had Violent Past, Served Nearly 10 Years in Prison

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(Photo: Screen Grab via AZ Central)Fr. Kenneth Walker, 28, (l) and Fr. Joseph Terra, 56, (r).

A man arrested in connection with the killing of a young Roman Catholic priest and the beating of a second priest at the Mother of Mercy Mission in Phoenix, Arizona was recently released from prison and had a violent past, police have stated. A public viewing and mass, meanwhile, was held to remember the victim, who managed to receive last rites before he died.

"We believe the motive here is a crime of opportunity, to do a burglary, and the burglary was discovered by Father Terra, who thought somebody was knocking at the door. He [Gary Michael Moran] opened the door window near the door and started attacking [Joseph] Terra violently and entered the room," said Police Chief Daniel Garcia, according to Fox10 News on Monday.

The incident occurred last week, where 28-year-old Fr. Kenneth Walker was found shot to death by police responding to a burglary call at the church, next to 56-year-old Fr. Joseph Terra, who was badly beaten but survived the attack.

Garcia revealed that the suspect, 54-year-old Moran, is facing murder charges. Police believe that Moran hit Terra with a piece of metal, and before the priest could get to a gun he kept in his nightstand next to his bed, the suspect grabbed the pistol and shot Walker, who came into the room.

Moran, who appeared before a judge Monday at the fourth avenue jail, has a history of violent crimes. He had been released from prison this last spring after serving nearly 10 years for burglary and aggravated assault. The suspect was apparently identified through DNA evidence left at the scene of the crime.

"In 2005, Gary Michael Moran, was arrested for a burglary where he attacked a homeowner with a knife, this is the history of our suspect, he is a career criminal, and a violent felony offender," Garcia explained.

CBS5 reported that Terra was released from the hospital on Monday, and was able to attend a public viewing and mass for Walker.

"I've been praying for all those who've been praying for me," Terra said.

Armando Ruiz, a Catholic who attended the service, said that the mass delivered a powerful message, and that parishioners are praying for Walker, for Terra, and for the suspect responsible for the crime.

Walker was born in upstate New York, has 10 siblings, and was ordained just two years ago. Family members said that they have been overcome by emotions and loss, but were comforted that Terra was able to administer last rites to Walker.

"For Catholics, receiving your last rites basically guarantees you're going to heaven," Walker's stepsister, Sasha Keys, told The Associated Press last week. "That's one of the biggest reasons we have to smile."

An online fund was started to raise money to cover various funeral expenses for Walker, including flying his family home and covering the reception cost. With a goal of $20,000, the donations already exceeded $43,000 by Tuesday morning.

The fund states that all excess funds not needed after the funeral will be donated to the Fraternity Of St. Peter.