Janitor arrested in Priest murder

October 24, 2009 9:04:06 PM PDT
A janitor was charged with murder Saturday in the slaying of priest whose body was found in the rectory of his northern New Jersey church. Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi said 64-year-old Jose Feliciano was charged in the murder of the Rev. Ed Hinds, whose body was found Friday in the rectory kitchen of St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church in Chatham.

The announcement of Feliciano's arrest was met with shock at Saturday evening Mass, a double blow to the church community where the priest had served for six years and the janitor had worked for 17.

The pair got into an argument on Thursday evening, and it was during the altercation that Feliciano grabbed a knife and stabbed the 61-year-old Hinds multiple times, Bianchi said.

Feliciano, who also faces weapons charges, was arrested Saturday.

Bianchi said investigators found the priest's cell phone, bloody clothing and bloody towels at Feliciano's home in Easton, Pa., about 45 miles west of Chatham.

Bianchi said Feliciano was one of two people who looked for Hinds after the priest failed to show up for 8 a.m. mass Friday.

The pair found the body, and Bianchi said Feliciano was performing CPR on Hinds when officers arrived and his halfhearted attempts struck them as suspicious.

Bianchi said Feliciano's son graduated from the church's school, which runs from kindergarten through eighth grade, and his daughter is a student there.

The priest, dressed in his clerical robes, had wounds on his upper torso, the back of his body and his head that were created by a kitchen knife, officials said. Hinds also had defensive wounds on his hands and face, Bianchi said. An autopsy determined that the cause of death was severe trauma.

The slaying rocked the New York City bedroom community of about 10,000 residents. It was the first violent death in tiny, affluent Chatham since a 1990 manslaughter case.

Parishioner Michael Marotta, 47, said he would not have hesitated to leave his three children in the care of either Hinds or Feliciano, whom he described as caring, quiet, hardworking men.

Marotta, whose 10-year-old son is enrolled at St. Patrick's School, said Feliciano lived in a home next to the church until a few years ago.

"Everyone loses in this," said Marotta, who lives down the street from the church. "The church, the broader Chatham community and the Hinds and Feliciano families. It's disheartening."

Earlier Saturday, parishioners had climbed over knee-high crime scene tape that was strung near the church, school and parking lots to attend a morning Mass. They remembered the pastor they called "Father Ed," as warm, outgoing and very community-oriented.

Police and church officials guided about 300 parishioners through a light drizzle into the school gym next to the church.

Once inside, many wiped away tears as church leaders said Hinds would have wanted parishioners to go on and find strength in their faith.

"We're strong and we're hope-filled, and we know we'll get through this. We have each other, we have Christ, and we're not afraid," the Rev. Owen Moran told the Star-Ledger of Newark afterward. "The idea of Father Ed's life is that he was planting seeds here in this parish for six years. And now the seeds must grow and continue the mission of Christ in this world."

The parish's 5 p.m. Saturday Mass began about the same time Bianchi announced the arrest at the county administration building in Morristown, about 20 minutes away.

Parishioner Juliette Peros told the newspaper an announcement about the arrest was made near the end of the Saturday night service and came as a shock to those in attendance.

Peros said several people were crying and that a woman seated behind her yelled "Jose! No, Jose!" when the announcement was made.

Hinds, who was born in nearby Morristown, had been pastor at the parish since 2003, after serving at St. Michael Church in Netcong and Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Boonton. He was ordained in 1974.

Following an early stint at St. Patrick's, he went on to become the vice chancellor of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Paterson and secretary to the bishop from 1978 to 1985.

Joe Korkuch is not a member of St. Patrick's parish, but said he spoke with Hinds almost every night as the priest walked his dog, a cocker spaniel named Copper, through the neighborhood.

"It's so sad." said parishioner Pat Patello, 52. "I don't think this town will ever get over this."

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