Accused killer of Chatham priest pleads not guilty

| March 3, 2010

CHATHAM BOROUGH — The former custodian of St. Patrick Church pleaded not guilty today to murdering the parish priest, who died in October from 32 stab wounds.

Jose Feliciano, 64, of Easton, Pa., is accused of killing the Rev. Edward Hinds, 61, in the parish rectory Oct. 22. Feliciano, who was indicted on Jan. 26, was arraigned today on the charges in Superior Court in Morristown by Judge Thomas Manahan.

After reading the six-count indictment, Manahan asked, “How does Mr. Feliciano plead to those charges,” to which defense attorney Neill Hamilton replied, “Not guilty.” Feliciano did not speak.

Manahan said it is still too soon in the case for any plea offers to be made and for any possible defenses to be raised.

“The state does not feel the timing is appropriate to offer a plea due to the voluminous discovery,” Manahan said.

The next hearing in the case, a status conference, was set for June 2.

The indictment accuses Feliciano of two counts of murder, as well as first-degree robbery, third-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and hindering his own apprehension, and fourth-degree unlawful possession of a knife.

The robbery charge pertains to Feliciano allegedly taking Hinds’ cell phone after the beating and slaying. It was the same phone that the pastor used to call 911 during the incident, but the phone call was disconnected, apparently when Feliciano discovered the pastor making the call, grabbed the phone and hung up.

When a police dispatcher called the phone back, a man believed to be Feliciano answered and said there was no problem, and no police services were dispatched. Because Hinds, in his distress, had not immediately given an exact street address, the dispatcher had no way of immediately knowing the exact location of the call, authorities had said.

Hinds was found dead on Oct. 23 in the rectory kitchen after parishioners became concerned when the punctual pastor did not show up for morning Mass on time as usual. Feliciano, who feigned surprise at finding Hinds at the same time as the parishioners, came under suspicion when he half-heartedly attempted cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Hinds, authorities said.

Feliciano became distraught and was taken to Morristown Memorial Hospital, where he remained as police connected him to the crime and arrested him Oct. 24. He has been in custody on $1 million bail.

A possible motive for the slaying was revealed in a four-page search warrant for Feliciano's home in Pennsylvania. Several weeks before he was killed, Hinds discovered that Feliciano's employment record did not include the requisite citation indicating he had passed a criminal background check.

Hinds' review might have been prompted by efforts by the Diocese of Paterson six months earlier to ensure all parishes and schools complied with diocesan policies on criminal background checks, authorities said.

Feliciano had been wanted in Philadelphia on a charge of indecent assault of a minor from 1988 and had been using several false names and Social Security numbers over the years, authorities have said.

Court records and the file on Feliciano’s charge in Philadelphia no longer exist, officials there have said.

Two days before he was killed, Hinds told the principal of St. Patrick school, which is next to the church, of the discrepancy and said Feliciano might have to be "let go," according to court records.

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Category: Church Security

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