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Ex-convict accused of killing priest

PHOENIX — A homeless ex-convict with a history of violence and drug abuse was arrested Monday on suspicion of killing a clergyman with a handgun that had been retrieved by another priest after he was hit with an iron rod at a Phoenix church, police said.

Police said the Rev. Joseph Terra went to investigate noises in a church courtyard and was attacked by 54-year-old Gary Michael Moran with the piece of metal before the priest fled and got a .357-caliber gun from his bedroom.

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Moran allegedly wrestled the weapon away from the injured priest and killed Terra’s assistant, the Rev. Kenneth Walker, after he rushed to the aid of his colleague, court records show.

Moran stole a camera and fled in Walker’s car, police said.

Police Chief Daniel Garcia called the attack ‘‘a violent, tragic, horrifying offense’’ committed by a career criminal who had been out of prison only six weeks. Moran had served about eight years on charges that included aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

In the 2005 case, police said, Moran entered a Phoenix apartment, found a steak knife, went into the bedroom, and stabbed a man in the abdomen without provocation before being subdued.

Moran did not know the victims or recall the crime, and he cited a history of drug abuse including recent methamphetamine use, police said.

He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Moran was also sentenced to more than four years in prison after pleading guilty in 2001 to misconduct involving weapons.

He was convicted in two 1989 burglaries as well.

The priests were attacked last Wednesday in the rectory of the Mother of Mercy Mission.

Walker, 28, died of a gunshot wound and Terra was badly beaten.

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