WATERFORD, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Bishops are asking Georgia prosecutors not to seek the death penalty in the murder of a Florida priest with ties to the Capital Region.
Father Rene Robert was ordained at St. Mary’s Church in Waterford in 1989. Six years later, he signed a document that has become the center of the case against his accused killer.
“He didn’t want the death penalty for anyone,” his sister Debbie Bedard said.
Bedard has known for years her brother didn’t believe in the death penalty, but she was shocked to learn he signed a Declaration of Life in 1995 that states he’s opposed to it if he were to be killed.
“It was, like, ‘Oh, my God,’” she said. “I never knew he had signed this.”
She learned of the letter after Father Rene’s body was found in rural Georgia in April 2016. Steven Murray faces charges in the priest’s death, including murder.
Father Rene had devoted his life to helping people like Murray, who have mental and emotional problems and have been convicted of crimes.
“In his heart he did not really think anybody would do this to him,” Bedard said.
If Murray is convicted, prosecutors said they plan to seek the death penalty. On Tuesday, bishops from Georgia and Florida gathered outside a Georgia courthouse to make a plea on behalf of Father Rene.
“We believe that it is necessary to keep that voice and that request, that declaration of life of Father Robert loud and clear,” Bishop Gregory Hartmayer, of the Diocese of Savannah, said.
Bedard also wants her brother’s wishes to be honored, but she feels it’s up to the court to decide.
“When someone takes a life like he took my brother’s, I don’t think he deserves anything,” she said.
Bedard said she spoke with someone from the district attorney’s office on Wednesday, and they told her they don’t think the trial will happen this year.
The bishops also gave the DA a petition signed by more than 7,000 people asking that Father Rene’s wishes be honored.