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Cook Arrested in Killing of Priest

January 04, 2002|From Associated Press

BERNALILLO, N.M. — A short-order cook who had been jailed in four other states was arrested Thursday on charges of fatally beating a priest at a monastery that serves as a treatment center for troubled clergymen.

Steven A. Degraff, 33, already jailed on an unrelated crime, confessed to Sandoval County sheriff's deputies that he killed Father Michael Mack, 59, court records show.

Mack was an alcohol counselor at the Servants of the Paraclete compound, an isolated center in the Jemez Mountains in north-central New Mexico.

Degraff was being held Thursday at the Sandoval County jail on a $1-million bond. He was scheduled to be arraigned today on charges of murder, kidnapping, robbery, aggravated burglary, stealing a vehicle, criminal damage to property and six counts of tampering with evidence, court records said.

Sheriff's deputies said Mack, who had lived alone in a cottage about two miles from the compound, had been stabbed and bludgeoned to death. His pajama-clad body was found Dec. 8.

Mack had moved into the cottage Dec. 2, less than a week before the homicide, to start a year of personal study and reflection and to do some counseling, said Father Ray Gunzel, director of a treatment center at the compound.

"This Steven Degraff was one of the first people that Mike would have been reaching out to help. He was always working with the underdogs, the misunderstood and the oppressed," Gunzel said.

Degraff allegedly entered Mack's home and stole his wallet, keys and car, court records show.

The suspect reportedly told investigators he was armed with a knife and a hammer during the killing, the records said. Sandoval County Undersheriff Karl Wiese said investigators have not yet found the weapons.

He later led deputies to the car, which was found on Thomson Ridge in Sandoval County with the keys still in the ignition, the records said.

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