The Rev. Rene Robert devoted his life to helping society's most troubled, working with drug addicts and criminals and even signing a "Declaration of Life" that called for his hypothetical killer to be spared execution in the event of his murder. More than two decades after filing that document, his wish will be tested. Robert's body—shot multiple times—was found in the Georgia woods last year after the arrest of Steven Murray, a repeat offender Robert had been trying to help for months. Police say Murray asked the 71-year-old priest for a ride in Jacksonville, Florida, then kidnapped him and drove him across the state line. Days later, Murray led officers to the priest's body, police say. Prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty if Murray is convicted of murder, citing the slaying's aggravated nature, reports the AP.
But Catholic officials from Georgia and Florida plan to protest Tuesday on the courthouse steps in Augusta, citing Robert's own words opposing capital punishment. "I request that the person found guilty of homicide for my killing not be subject to or put in jeopardy of the death penalty under any circumstances, no matter how heinous their crime or how much I may have suffered," states the document Robert signed in 1995, notarized and witnessed by an attorney, that he insisted be kept in his personnel file. The choice ultimately is the prosecutor's, says Georgia State University law professor Lauren Sudeall Lucas, who lectures on capital punishment. Ultimately the district attorney represents the state, not the victim, she adds.