by Robert A. Waters
Tuesday, January 31, 2017
The Rene Robert Murder
Should a Merciless Killer be Spared the Death Penalty?
by Robert A. Waters
by Robert A. Waters
Throughout history, many cultures practiced “an eye for an eye,” meaning that if an individual was murdered, the victim's family exacted revenge. Blood feuds from these original murders sometimes lasted for centuries. Once cultures developed civilized legal systems, the state became the arbiter of justice for victims of violent crimes. The death penalty was developed as kind of a social contract between citizens and the state, whereby an eye for an eye still applied, but was carried out by the state. In the following case, that social contract has been turned on its head, because the victim signed a document asking the state not to execute his killer.
“If anybody loves Father Rene, they'll forgive me because he was a man of God, and forgiveness is forgiveness,” Steven Murray, 28, told reporters after leading police to the bullet-riddled body of Catholic Priest Rene Robert. Murray admitted slaying Robert, but blamed it on “mental problems.”
On April 12, Father Rene had been scheduled to perform a funeral service in St. Augustine, Florida, but never showed up. Since this was out of character, church officials contacted the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office and reported him missing. During the investigation, a neighbor informed detectives that he last saw Father Rene on Sunday, April 10. Robert's car, a 2012 blue Toyota with a Florida Special Olympics tag, was also missing.
Police soon spotted the vehicle and began pursuing the suspect. After a high-speed chase, deputies lost sight of the car on I-95 near Jacksonville. Murray, identified as the driver, appeared to be heading north, so the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office alerted agencies in Georgia and South Carolina to be on the lookout for the car. Late on the afternoon of April 13, the blue Toyota was discovered in Aiken, South Carolina.
The next day, St. Johns County Sheriff's spokesman Chuck Mulligan announced that Murray had been arrested. Mulligan told reporters that Murray's family had been friends with Father Rene, and “we believe Murray took advantage of [Father Rene's] kindness” as the priest attempted to counsel Murray. After being interviewed, the suspect led detectives to Robert's remains in rural Burke County, Georgia. An autopsy confirmed that the priest had died of several gunshot wounds.
The Daily Beast reported that Father Rene's fellow clergy described him as having been “intensely dedicated. His life's work was with people struggling with drug addictions and criminal histories. He would give money to recovering addicts and even lend them his car.” Like many Catholics, Father Rene adamantly opposed the death penalty.
On the other hand, Steven Murray had a long history of petty crime. Over a ten-year period, he was arrested for offenses such as larceny, selling stolen property, giving false information to a pawn shop, firearms violations, and violation of probation. He had been out of prison for less than a month when he is alleged to have murdered Father Rene.
Sheriff David Shoar, a friend of the priest, issued the following statement: “I join many others within our community who were touched by Father Rene over the years and extend my condolences to his family and friends. He will be sorely missed. I am confident that all of the investigators will continue their hard work in seeking a successful prosecution of this heinous act.”
It was at this point that detectives located a document that ignited a fierce debate about whether Murray should receive the ultimate punishment, if convicted.
A Declaration of Life, signed by Father Rene, read: “Should I die as a result of 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 circumstance, no matter how heinous the crime or how much I have suffered.”
In the coming trial, will the priest's wishes be upheld? While the prosecutor has already stated her intention of seeking capital punishment, Father Rene's family has publicly stated that they oppose execution.
When Father Rene signed the Declaration of Life form years ago, he likely never had an inkling that he would be murdered. But he let his wishes be known, and never changed his mind. Despite the brutality of the crime and the outrage of citizens in St. Augustine, it is probable that Steven Murray will never die from the prick of a needle.
Posted by Robert A. Waters at 7:02 AM