Suspect in Arizona church shooting left prison in April

Gary Michael Moran was arrested Sunday night and charged with murdering Rev. Kenneth Walker in a Phoenix church. He's had run-ins with the law before.

The Catholic Sun/AP
The Rev. Kenneth Walker (l.) and the Rev. Joseph Terra perform a mass in Phoenix. Mr. Walker was killed and Mr. Terra was critically injured during a robbery attempt at Mother of Mercy Mission church on Wednesday.

On Sunday evening, police arrested ex-convict Gary Michael Moran in connection with the Phoenix church attack last week that left one priest dead and another critically injured.

Mr. Moran is being held under suspicion of armed robbery, burglary, and first-degree murder, among other charges.

Police had said on Thursday that a lack of eyewitness accounts and physical evidence was hampering their investigation. Forensic evidence collected from the crime scene, however, led investigators to Moran, who had been released from prison on Apr. 24 after serving more than 85 percent of a 10-year sentence.

“The Phoenix Police Department’s Crime lab in partnership with the Department of Public Safety Crime lab were able to forensically link this suspect to evidence left at the scene,” according to the Phoenix Police Department Twitter feed Monday.

In 2006, Moran was convicted of invading a Phoenix home and stabbing its owner with a steak knife, after having taken methamphetamines. During the next several years, he continued to run afoul of the law, committing more than a dozen infractions in prison including the possession and distribution of illegal drugs. After his release, Moran had been transient and unemployed, according to court records.

Moran’s arrest occurs in a context of high recidivism rates the nation over: A Bureau of Justice Statistics report released this April found that 67.8 percent of state prisoners were arrested within 3 years of their release, and 76.6 percent were arrested with 5 years. The bureau's record-keeping makes it difficult to compare recidivism rates across different decades.

A 2011 Pew report found that few little progress had been made on the issue, despite significant boosts in correctional spending. In Arizona, according to the report, recidivism remained steady from 1999 to 2007, with 40 percent of ex-convicts being convicted (rather than arrested) within three years of their release.

"We're relieved that he's not out there doing it again and we hope some good comes out of it for him," said Sasha Keys, the stepsister of Rev. Kenneth Walker, who was killed in the attack. As of Monday, she’d received $42,000 from good Samaritans.

“It was incredible," she said. “I’m getting letters in the mail with checks.”

The other victim of last week's attack, Rev. Joseph Terra, is expected to make a “full recovery,” church officials said Sunday.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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