2016-04-20 / Front Page

Murdered priest found in Burke County woods

By: Roy F. Chalker, Jr.


Location where Father Rene Robert's body was found A news crew from Augusta television station WRDW is shown filming a segment at the site where the Florida priest's body was found late Tuesday afternoon. 28 year-old Steven James Murray led Florida law enforcement officers to the body, which was located just off River Road, about four miles east of Highway 56 north of Waynesboro. Location where Father Rene Robert's body was found A news crew from Augusta television station WRDW is shown filming a segment at the site where the Florida priest's body was found late Tuesday afternoon. 28 year-old Steven James Murray led Florida law enforcement officers to the body, which was located just off River Road, about four miles east of Highway 56 north of Waynesboro. A week long, three-state investigation into the disappearance of a Florida Catholic priest ended in Burke County Monday when the body of 71 year-old Rev. Rene Wayne Robert was found about four miles off Highway 56 north of Waynesboro.

An acquaintance of the priest, a "career criminal" according to St. Johns County Florida Sheriff David Shoar, led authorities to the body and is being held in the Burke County Jail. 28 year-old Steven James Murray of Jacksonville was apprehended in Aiken County, S.C. last Wednesday night after a high speed chase that ended when Murray crashed the priest's car into a tree. Murray then fled on foot, but was tracked down by blood- hounds and helicopters and placed into custody. According to law enforcement officials, a number of firearms, including a rifle and scope, were recovered from the blue Toyota.

Rev. Robert, who was a senior priest in the Diocese of St. Augustine, was last seen on Sunday, April 10 and was reported missing Tuesday, April 12 when church officials became concerned after he missed an appointment. According to reports, Robert had been trying to help Murray, who had recently been released from jail. That Tuesday night, Murray was spotted driving Robert's car and led Florida law enforcement officials on a high speed chase through St. Johns and Duval counties. Officers lost track of the car in a highway construction work area on Interstate 95. He then apparently drove through Georgia into Aiken County. Authorities believe he may have driven back and forth between Florida and South Carolina more than once before being caught.

After Murray was extradited back to Florida, officials were able to get him to agree to lead them to "several locations involved in this case to include where a body was found," according to a release from the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office. At press time Tuesday officials had not yet revealed the cause of death or the exact motive.

Burke County Sheriff Greg Coursey said Tuesday that the case is "an example of cooperation from law enforcement agencies across jurisdictional lines which led to some closure for the victim's friends and family." Coursey said that as soon as positive identification has been made and all legal proceedings have been completed, the suspect will likely be charged with kidnapping in Florida and murder in Burke County.

St. Johns County Sheriff Shoar issued a statement saying, "I am confident that all of the investigators will continue their hard work in seeking a successful prosecution of this heinous act. This complex investigation, that spanned three states and numerous counties, demonstrated exemplary cooperation between many investigators and departments."

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