Gary Michael Moran is seen in this undated photograph from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office in Phoenix, Arizona. Picture: Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, via Reuters

Phoenix - A homeless man charged with the murder of one priest and assault on another in Phoenix was apprehended after a homeless woman told police he had confessed to her before checking into an emergency psychiatric facility, police said on Tuesday.

Gary Michael Moran, 54, has been linked by DNA to the crime scene at the Mater Misericordiae (Mother of Mercy) Mission Catholic church, police said. He has been charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder, armed robbery and theft.

Moran is a convicted felon and violent burglar who was freed from prison less than two months ago, police said.

“He approached this homeless woman on Saturday, a transient female, and indicated some involvement and handed her some property from the church. She then came to us,” Phoenix Police Department Sergeant Steve Martos said.

“We caught him the next morning after he checked himself into a UPC (Urgent Psychiatric Care Centre).”

Police confirmed several grisly details about last Wednesday night's invasion at the church, in which Reverend Kenneth Walker, 29, was shot dead and Reverend Joseph Terra, 56, was brutally beaten.

Martos said Moran used a handgun owned by Father Terra to kill Walker after wrestling it away from Terra, whose fingers were too severely injured to pull the trigger in his own defence.

Martos said Moran also ordered Terra to get on his hands and knees and demanded money, before stealing a car belonging to the church and abandoning it a few blocks away.

Despite his critical condition, Terra was able to call 911 and administer last rites to his dying colleague.

Both priests belonged to a religious order called the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter.

Moran, who was described by Phoenix Police Chief Daniel Garcia as a “career criminal”, is being held on a $1 million bond. He previously served nearly eight years for a burglary in which he entered a home and stabbed a male homeowner. - Reuters