Slain priest remembered as a comforter of sick

October 30, 2009 3:13:58 PM PDT
A Roman Catholic priest slain a week ago in a brutal attack was remembered Friday as a man with a special gift for comforting the sick and dying. Mourners filled St. Patrick Roman Catholic Church for a viewing for the Rev. Edward Hinds, whose body was discovered in the parish rectory last Friday morning suffering from 32 stab wounds.

The grisly slaying shocked this leafy suburb about 25 miles west of New York City, where local businesses adorn their storefronts with homemade Halloween figures and the last homicide occurred in 1990.

Jose Feliciano of Easton, Pa., a janitor who had worked for the parish for more than 15 years, has been charged with murder and is being held on $1 million bail. Prosecutors say he has confessed to the crime.

A casket bearing Hinds, who had headed the parish since 2003, arrived at the church at about 11 a.m. for a brief service, with the viewing scheduled to last through evening. Several members of the Chatham Fire Department formed a single row on either side of the steps leading up to the church as the casket was carried in.

Many of the mourners leaving the church declined to speak to reporters; some dabbed at tears.

"He was very involved, very caring," said Anthony Migliozzi of Chatham, who said his son attends sixth grade at the parish school.

The children "saw him every day. They miss him," Migliozzi said.

The Rev. Owen Moran, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in nearby East Hanover, performed the service and later praised Hinds' compassionate works.

"One of his attributes was that he was very kind with the sick and the dying, preparing and counseling their families," Moran said.

Prosecutors have said Hinds and Feliciano argued the day before Hinds' body was found, about the janitor's continued employment at the parish, though they said that is not the only motive they are exploring.

Authorities are investigating a series of 911 calls that were made on the day of the killing. The first, made from Hinds' cell and routed to a call center operated by New Jersey State Police outside Trenton, about 50 miles away, requested police services.

The call was cut short, and an operator called back twice, reaching a man believed to be Feliciano the second time, Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi said. The man said there was no emergency and hung up, and the operator was unable to fix the location where the call originated. No police were dispatched to the parish.

At Feliciano's first court appearance Thursday, prosecutors said the 64-year-old had been trying to cover up a two-decade-old arrest warrant in Philadelphia by using fake names and identification.

According to court documents, Hinds had discussed firing Feliciano with the St. Patrick School principal one day before his death, and mentioned a discrepancy in Feliciano's personnel file regarding a criminal background check.

The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office confirmed that Feliciano was arrested in April 1988 on charges of indecent assault, simple assault and corrupting the morals of a minor but failed to show up for a court date the following month.

Leslie Gomez, assistant chief of the DA's juvenile court unit, did not provide specifics on the incident that led to the charges, citing office policy.

It was unclear whether Feliciano's name was entered by Philadelphia authorities into the FBI's National Crime Information Center system, a database used by law enforcement agencies to check criminal histories and track fugitives.

Only law enforcement agencies have access to the database, said Stephen Fischer, spokesman for the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services, so it is not clear whether a criminal background check of Feliciano undertaken by the parish would have revealed the outstanding warrant.

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