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Arrest Made In Priest Killing

Gary Michael Moran, 54, is charged with murdering Fr. Kenneth Walker.
Courtesy of Phoenix Police
Gary Michael Moran, 54, is charged with murdering Fr. Kenneth Walker.

Phoenix police on Monday said they had made an arrest in the killing of a Roman Catholic priest and the beating of a second priest at a church in the city's downtown. 


The suspect is Gary Michael Moran, a 54-year-old ex-convict. He was being held on Monday on suspicion of first-degree murder, burglary and armed robbery, among other charges.


The priests were attacked in the rectory of the Mother of Mercy Mission Wednesday night. The Rev. Kenneth Walker, 28, was shot and killed and the Rev. Joseph Terra, 56, was badly beaten. Terra was able to give Walker last rites after the assault. 


Police said Terra told them the next day the suspect was a white male in his 40s. Detectives were able to connect Moran to forensic evidence collected at the crime scene. 


Moran was released from prison in April after serving about eight years on charges that included aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and burglary, court records show.


In the 2005 case, police said, Moran entered the apartment of someone he didn't  know, picked up a steak knife, went into a bedroom and stabbed a man in the abdomen without provocation before being subdued. He was sentenced to 10 years in state prison.


“This is the history of our suspect," said police Chief Daniel Garcia at a Monday news conference. "He is a career criminal.”

During his time in prison, Moran was found guilty of more than a dozen infractions, including four for drug manufacturing and possession, the Department of Corrections records show. 


Police said last week that they were unsure if there was only one suspect or whether robbery was the motive in the attack. On Monday, police said on the night of the attack, Moran tried to break into the rectory where the two priests lived. Fr. Terra went to investigate noises outside the church and when he opened the door, police said Moran attacked the priest with a metal rod.


Moran wrestled away a gun that belonged to Fr. Terra, police said. When Fr. Walker came to Terra’s aid, the suspect allegedly shot him.

Terra was moved out of a hospital intensive care unit Saturday night and is expected to make a full recovery. The Rev. Carl Gismondi, a pastor visiting from San Diego, conducted Mass at the priests' church Sunday and said he had visited his fellow priest at a Phoenix hospital. 


"He was in good spirits,'' Gismondi said after the service. 


Meanwhile, a requiem Mass was to be held at 10 a.m. Monday for Walker at another Catholic church in Phoenix.


Walker was born in upstate New York, had 10 siblings and was drawn to the priesthood after attending traditional Latin Mass with his family in high  school. He later joined the seminary, made good grades and enjoyed playing soccer, said the Rev. Joseph Lee, academic dean at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Nebraska.


Walker eventually joined a Catholic order that specializes in Latin Mass and became a priest in downtown Phoenix. He recently officiated a younger sibling's wedding in Kansas -- the last time he saw many relatives.


Family members said they were overcome with emotion by the loss, but they took solace in the fact that the surviving priest was able to administer last rites.


"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.''


Updated at 5:29 p.m.

Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez was a reporter at KJZZ from 2008 to 2015.