Homeless man pleads not guilty in Arizona priest killing

PHOENIX Thu Jul 17, 2014 2:05pm EDT

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PHOENIX (Reuters) - An Arizona homeless man and convicted felon pleaded not guilty on Thursday to charges of killing a priest and beating another pastor with a metal pipe at a Phoenix church, court officials said.

Gary Michael Moran, 54, entered the plea in Maricopa County Superior Court in Phoenix to seven criminal counts that included first-degree murder and aggravated assault stemming from the June 11 attacks at the Mater Misericordiae (Mother of Mercy) Mission Catholic church.

Moran also has been charged with burglary, armed robbery, kidnapping, weapons misconduct and unlawful means of transportation stemming from a crime that shocked the nation's sixth-largest city.

Moran, sitting in a wheelchair wearing faded jail stripes and shackled, offered no comments during the brief hearing before court Commissioner Casey Newcomb other than giving his name and date of birth, officials said.

Authorities accuse Moran of bursting into the church rectory while the two pastors were inside and badly beating the Reverend Joseph Terra, 56. He wrestled away a handgun owned by the pastor and used it to shoot and kill Reverend Kenneth Walker, 29, Phoenix police said.

Police said Moran escaped in a church vehicle, which he abandoned several blocks away from the popular Phoenix church.

Terra was able to call police and administer last rites to the dying priest despite suffering from severe injuries.

Terra was hospitalized for five days and is still recuperating from his injuries, said church spokesman Rob DeFrancesco.

A homeless woman is credited with helping police arrest Moran on June 15 - less than two months after he was released from a state prison.

Police said he told the woman that he was involved in the crime and gave her some property from the church before he checked into an emergency psychiatric facility. He was taken into custody the next day.

Moran was linked to the crime by DNA evidence found at the scene. His next court hearing is on Sept. 2.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Jim Loney)

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