A bitter ending

Toxic upbringing forged an unstable criminal

MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF Steven Murray, in stripes, left the Burke County Courthouse in Waynesboro on Wednesday after being sentenced for murder.

Steven James Murray’s life is full of scars – physical, mental, emotional. Some he bears himself. Some he inflicted on others.

 

And when you connect them all together, they led him to this.

On Wednesday in Waynesboro, a judge sentenced Murray to life in prison for the murder of the Rev. Rene Robert, a 71-year-old St. Augustine, Fla., Franciscan priest. It’s a grim coda for two very different lives.

Robert had befriended Murray and his girlfriend, extending assistance to them however and whenever he could. Robert’s last act of kindness occurred April 10, 2016, when the priest let Murray borrow his car. With Robert along for the ride, Murray drove to Aiken, S.C., in an unsuccessful attempt to see his estranged children.

Then, authorities say, Murray snapped. He forced Robert into the car’s trunk, then committed a string of burglaries and set fire to a house where police say he stole weapons and other property.

Murray told the Florida Times-Union of Jacksonville last year that Robert yelled from the trunk: “You’ll never get away with it. You’ll go back to prison.”

So about 45 minutes later, authorities say, Murray drove out to a remote Burke County road, let Robert out of the trunk and walked the priest into the woods, where he shot him in the left side, then in the head.

“I didn’t mean to kill him. I didn’t want to kill him,” Murray said. “It just happened.”

No it didn’t. Just days before, Murray’s sister Bobbie Jean told Robert to stay away from her brother and to stop giving him money, because she feared he was about to lose control.

Murray’s trajectory, given his upbringing, could not have been more predictable. He had been in and out of police custody since he was 11, seeking jail as an escape from an abusive father who he said forced Murray to molest his sisters and embark on a life of crime. And Murray’s rage over being abused turned him into an abuser.

It’s profoundly sad. But none of that should excuse his crime.

We all, at some point, must be held accountable for our actions – “Buy the ticket, take the ride,” in the words of journalist Hunter S. Thompson. We must live with the choices we make.

Even those choices warped by toxic family dysfunction.

 

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