Suspect in DeKalb County pastor's murder appears in court

A man suspected of stabbing a pastor to death then trying to hide her body by setting a fire appeared in court on Saturday. 

Christopher Griggs appeared before a DeKalb County judge during a virtual hearing. The judge provided Griggs his charges — one count of malice murder and one count of first-degree arson. 

Griggs will have a bond hearing before a Superior Court judge in about two weeks before a preliminary hearing to determine if there is probable cause to arrest Griggs on charges in more than one month. 

Police said family found the Rev. Marita Harrell, a 57-year-old faith leader and mother, in a van abandoned along Coffee Road. 

DeKalb County police said Harrell had been stabbed to death at a home along Panola Road. Griggs put her body into her van, drove to the remote location and tried to hide the crime by setting a fire, investigators said.

Griggs, 27, was arrested late Thursday evening and charged with malice murder and first-degree arson. Police said investigators tracked Griggs using the reverend's phone. Rev. Harrell had a counseling session with Griggs the same night she was found dead, investigators said. 

Harrell’s family said they expressed concerns about some of the people she was mentoring, but she explained to them that God had put a calling on her life to help those in need.

"She had an open, wonderful and accepting heart and she was always willing to learn about new people and she loved people," her daughter Alyse said.

When the senior pastor at Connections at Metropolitan United Methodist Church didn't make it home Wednesday night, her husband and older daughter went looking for her by tracking her phone. Then, they discovered her body.

"I was there and I still didn't believe it. I was expecting her to wake up, open her eyes or move," said Marae Harrell, the pastor’s daughter.

In addition to her husband and two daughters, Pastor Harrell is survived by her elderly parents who also live in the metro Atlanta area.