A born-again former police officer, who is serving a 99-year prison sentence for murder, will be offered a job as a preacher by the North Phoenix Baptist Church if his parole is granted in May.
Robert J. Erler, 34, a former Hollywood, Fla., police officer, was convicted in 1968 of killing a 12-year-old girl and wounding her mother after making sexual advances to the woman and attempting to rob her.
Erler has served 11 years of his sentence. He escaped in 1973 and spent 14 months in solitary confinement after his recapture. He reportedly read the Bible and accepted religion during his imprisonment.
Now confined in a minimum security facility, Erler has been preaching and leading fellow inmates in prayer meetings for two years. North Phoenix Baptist Church heard about his work and "licensed" him to preach.
"We put our blessing upon him; that's all the license to preach means. He is not ordained," according to the Rev. Richard Jackson, pastor of the 8,500-member congregation.
"We're betting on him," said associate pastor Haold Green. "We've never done anything like this before. He's been licensed to preach by the church, he has a job with us and we have a commitment to help him go to school to become an ordained minister."
The Florida Parole Commission rejected Erler's application for a parole in 1978, saying it wanted to observe his behavior for one more year. Erler said he is confident he will be paroled, but said he will be content even if denied release.