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Documentary: Priest Forgives His Murderer

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By Marc Massery (May 21, 2018)
An ex-convict in St. Augustine, Florida, kidnapped and murdered a well-loved diocesan priest, Fr. Rene Robert, in the spring of 2016. The killer had no motive for such a brutal crime.

After the murderer's arrest, the local bishop discovered a document signed by the late priest more than 20 years earlier. Father Rene had penned a "Declaration of Life," which said: "Should I die as a result of a violent crime, I request that the person or persons found guilty of homicide for my killing not be subject to or put in jeopardy of the death penalty under any circumstance, no matter how heinous their crime or how much I have suffered."

The documentary film, "Where There is Darkness," presented by Stella Mar Films, tells the story of Fr. Rene's death and also gives witness to his profoundly charitable life. In fact, this saintly priest spent most of his days ministering to those on the fringes of society, including ex-criminals.

"That's how he met this young man, Steven Murray, [whom] he was trying to help. [And he] ended up kidnapping and killing him," said Cimela Kidonakis, one of the producers of the film.

As Murray's life spiraled apart, Fr. Rene tried to minister to him, as he typically did. Instead, Murray forced Fr. Rene into the trunk of his own car, drove him into some woods in Georgia, struck him to the ground, and shot him in the head.

Law enforcement arrested the perpetrator after he was seen driving Fr. Rene's blue Toyota Corolla. Following several days of interrogation, Murray confessed to the crime and led investigators to the body.

The prosecutors in Georgia where Murray was tried sought the death penalty. But Fr. Rene's witness to mercy, both in life and beyond the grave, made such a sentence challenging for the prosecution to reach.

Sean Bloomfield, another producer, said, "[We interviewed] the bishop, the sheriff, the detectives on the case, Fr. Rene's friends and family, and then Steven Murray's friends and family, especially his sisters. It turns out that Steven was horribly abused by his own father. He lived a hellish childhood growing up, and so did his sisters. It seemed to us that his father was the monster. But then we actually found out that his father's father abused [Steven's] father. It's this cycle of evil, in a way, this cycle of darkness."

Sean said that this documentary would take the viewer on a rollercoaster of emotions.

"At first you see this unrepentant killer, [and his victim] asking for people to forgive him ... [But] then as you look into who he was before his father stole his innocence and that he's a human being. Our film shows that everyone deserves a chance of mercy and obviously the other side of it is that life is valuable," Sean said.

Cimela said, "Talking to Steven in jail has uncovered many of the missing pieces of the story." She also said that Murray now expresses remorse and has even mentioned that he can still feel the spiritual presence of Fr. Rene with him.

Stella Mar Films — a small Catholic film studio that often relies on crowdfunding to finance their projects — hopes this pro-life message will open the eyes of the secular world to the power of God's mercy.

Sean said, "We want to make films that don't necessarily preach to the choir, but plant the seed of faith in people that don't believe and [may not be] Catholic."

To find out where to see a future screening, visit: www.wherethereisdarkness.com.

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Sonia - May 21, 2018

What a beautiful story. Fr. Rene died a martyr, willingly risking and giving up his life to help save this man for eternity. And now who knows how many other lives this witness will change?