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Saturday, March 2, 2024

The Gary Michael Morgan Murder Case

     Father Joseph Terra and his assistant pastor, Reverend Kenneth Walker, resided in the rectory of the Mercy Mission Catholic Church in a seedy neighborhood in downtown Phoenix, Arizona. Father Walker, age 29, from New York state had been ordained in May 2012.

     Father Terra, at nine o'clock on the night of Wednesday, June 11, 2014 heard a noise coming from the church courtyard. Upon investigation the 56-year-old priest came upon a man he did not know or recognize. The toothless, long-haired intruder, a man who looked like he lived on the streets, began attacking Father Terra with a blunt object made of iron. Under attack, the priest fled to the rectory where he grabbed a handgun he kept in his bedroom. Because the long-haired assailant had bludgeoned the father's right hand he was unable to fire the gun.

     The intruder wrestled the gun from the priest and ordered him to get down on his hands and knees. After demanding money the unkempt attacker shot Father Terra with the rectory gun.

     Assistant pastor Walker heard the commotion and came to help his colleague. The intruder responded by shooting the reverend as well. With the pastors shot and bleeding the shooter ran out of the church, climbed into Father Walker's 2003 Mazda Tribute and drove off.

     Pastor Walker, thirty minutes after Father Terra encountered the burglar in the church courtyard, called 911 to report that he and the unresponsive pastor had been shot by a white long-haired man in his fifties.

     As Father Walker waited for the police and ambulance crews he administered last rites to his gravely wounded colleague.

     Later that night Father Joseph Terra died while being treated at a nearby hospital. Doctors listed Father Walker in critical condition. He was, however, expected to survive the attack.

     Shortly after the shootings police officers came across Father Walker's Mazda parked four blocks from the church. A team of crime scene specialists processed the vehicle for physical evidence that could link the killer to the church murder.

     Homicide detectives caught a break when a woman called and told them a homeless man recently out of prison had given her a black bag containing a camera. That camera belonged to one of the priests at the Mercy Mission Catholic Church.

     At nine o'clock Sunday night, June 15, 2014, detectives arrested 54-year-old Gary Michael Morgan for the murder of Father Terra and the attempted murder of  Reverend Walker. Morgan denied shooting the priests then later confessed to the crimes.

     At his arraignment on Monday, June 16, 2014 Mr. Morgan pleaded not guilty to the charges of murder, attempted murder and aggravated assault. The judge ruled that he be held in the county jail on a $1 million cash-only bond.

     Who was this man who had snuck into a church and shot two priests? In 2005 Morgan had entered a stranger's apartment, picked up a steak knife and stabbed the male resident in the abdomen as he slept. Morgan pleaded guilty to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and was sentenced to ten years in an Arizona state prison. On April 24, 2014, after serving eight years of that sentence, corrections authorities paroled this violent man.

     On June 9, 2014, after meeting regularly with his parole officer, Mr. Morgan failed to show up for a scheduled appointment. Besides the aggravated assault conviction he had served time for car theft, burglary, and numerous drug related offenses. Since this life-long criminal's release from prison he had been living on the streets of downtown Phoenix.

     In February 2017, in order to avoid the death penalty, Gary Michael Morgan pleaded guilty to charges of aggravated assault and murder. Superior Court Judge Peter Reinstein sentenced Morgan to life in prison. 

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