Gary Moran pleaded guilty to avoid the death penalty
A former convict who killed one Catholic priest and seriously injured another at a Phoenix church in 2014 was sentenced Friday to spend the rest of his life in prison.
Gary Moran, 57, in February pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and accepted a life sentence to sidestep a death-penalty trial.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Pete Reinstein sentenced Moran to the only sentence available under the law: natural life in prison, meaning Moran can never be released.
Moran admitted to shooting and killing the Rev. Kenneth Walker at a church near the Arizona Capitol as part of a burglary attempt. He also wounded a second priest, the Rev. Joseph Terra, striking him with an angle iron as they wrestled over Terra’s gun.
“Mr. Moran, the murder you committed took away a very valuable member of the community,” Reinstein said to the defendant. “If you had simply asked Father Terra or Father Walker for food or clothing, they would have given it to you.”
Terra was present at the sentencing hearing. After it was over, he embraced friends and family who had come to the courtroom with him.
Angela Walker, Moran’s attorney, said her client was seriously mentally ill.
“He has repeatedly expressed remorse and regret for what happened,” she said.
Because Moran was homeless, he did not receive the mental-health care and prescriptions he needed for bipolar disorder and other illnesses, she said.
Moran had served prison time for an attack similar to the one on the priests, prosecutors said.
Moran originally was charged with premeditated first-degree murder, aggravated assault, burglary, kidnapping, auto theft and being a prohibited weapons possessor. Prosecutors intended to seek the death penalty.
In the plea agreement, prosecutors dropped the kidnapping, auto theft and weapons charges, leaving the murder, aggravated assault and burglary counts.
Reinstein sentenced Moran to natural life in prison for Walker’s murder. He was sentenced to 20 years on the aggravated assault count, 28 years for the burglary and eight years for violating the terms of his earlier parole.
A comment from Terra was not immediately available.
After the plea deal, Terra attached his name to a joint statement issued by the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, Bishop Thomas Olmsted and Walker’s family after the plea agreement was announced.
“We recognize that all members of society must be protected from violence and crime, and that punishment is often necessary to ensure public safety, particularly where the crime is so senseless and an innocent life has been taken, such as in this case,” the statement said.
“As Catholics, we believe all human persons are made in the image and likeness of God and therefore uphold the dignity of every human person. The desired healing of the deep wounds inflicted upon Fr. Terra and the Walker family, among many others, goes well beyond any specific act of human justice. At the same time, our concern for the eternal welfare of Mr. Moran prompts us to ensure he be given the time to hopefully experience the power and grace of God’s mercy, which we indeed pray for.”
Moran, who at the time had recently been released from prison, was homeless when he entered the Mother of Mary Mission in Phoenix on June 11, 2014. Moran was confronted by Terra, who tried to retrieve a gun from inside the mission, according to prosecutors. Moran overpowered Terra, striking him with the angle iron, prosecutors said.
Moran then was confronted by Walker and shot him to death before stealing property and a vehicle from the priests and fleeing, according to prosecutors.
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