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Was popular Buffalo priest killed?

Posted at 6:44 PM, Mar 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-27 18:53:33-04

The family of Father Joe Moreno wants the Erie County District Attorney to reopen the investigation into the death of the popular priest.  In October 2012, the 54-year-old Catholic priest was found dead in his private office at St. Lawrence Roman Catholic Church on East Delavan Avenue, Buffalo.

A handgun was recovered at the scene and it was ruled the Father Joe had died from a self-inflicted gunshot.

However, the Moreno family have never been satisfied with that explanation.  A family member told 7 Eyewitness News Reporter Ed Reilly that the death didn't make sense because Father Joe was making appointments with people and was planning to say afternoon Mass at a nursing home before he was found dead on October 13, 2012.

Fr. Joe was shot behind the left ear but the family member said that it was hard to understand how that could have happened because the priest's left hand was disabled from an injury.

The Moreno family spent thousands of dollars to have Fr. Joe's body exhumed and a new autopsy done by Pittsburg pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht.

Dr. Wecht told the Buffalo News that "After examining the evidence, I am not able to tell you definitively that this was a homicide, but I do believe serious questions have been raised."

The pathologist also told the Buffalo News he had never seen a case in his 55 years where someone with a "crippled left hand" could shoot himself from that angle.

Eyewitness News was unable to reach the pathologist for a direct comment.

Local defense attorney Paul Cambria also has questions.  Cambria plans to ask the Erie County District Attorney if he can review the case files.

"We have some photographs that have been represented as people running from the vicinity in the backyard of the rectory.  I'm looking at some other reports that we've been given and I think there is enough to justify, at least, permitting me to look at it," Cambria told Ed Reilly by phone.

Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said he welcomes any new "credible" evidence but Flynn said the case has been reviewed several times - including by the New York State Attorney General.

"I feel for the family very much but unfortunately, there is nothing that leads us to believe this wasn't a suicide.

As to the argument that Fr. Joe could not use his left hand to fire a gun, Flynn said it has been disproved.

"Numerous individuals who knew Fr. Joe well said he used his left hand all the time.   We have video of him flipping burgers with his left hand," explained the district attorney.

The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo issued the following statement concerning the calls for a new investigation:

“The Diocese is grateful for the good works of Fr. Joe Moreno and saddened by his loss.  The investigation of the circumstances and cause of his death has been left to the authorities because they are the experts in this field.”

Ed Reilly has more in his reports.