Church janitor charged in slaying of NJ priest

| October 24, 2009

MORRISTOWN, N.J. — A janitor was charged with murder Saturday in the slaying of a priest whose body was found in the rectory of his northern New Jersey church.

Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi said that 64-year-old Jose Feliciano stabbed and cut the Rev. Ed Hinds 32 times on Thursday after the pair argued. Bianchi would not provide further details about the argument.

The 61-year-old Hinds was in his clerical robes when he was killed while in the rectory kitchen of St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church in Chatham. Hinds' body was found at about 8 a.m. Friday after he failed to show up for Mass.

"Mr. Feliciano had gotten into an argument with the pastor at approximately 5 p.m. the night before," Bianchi said. "It was during that altercation that the pastor was assaulted. Mr. Feliciano grabbed a knife inside of the rectory and inflicted the multiple stab wounds that led to the unfortunate demise of the pastor."

Feliciano, who had worked at the church for 17 years, was arrested Saturday. He also faces weapons charges.

Bianchi said investigators found the priest's cell phone, bloody clothing and a bloody towel at Feliciano's Easton, Pa., home.

Bianchi said Feliciano was one of two people who said they found the body, and drew the suspicion of investigators when he made a halfhearted attempt at CPR on Hinds. They also said Feliciano's son graduated from the church's school and that his daughter is a student there.

The priest 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, where Hinds was familiar face and much-beloved presence. It was the first violent death in Chatham since a 1990 manslaughter case.

Earlier Saturday, parishioners stepped over knee-high crime scene tape to attend morning Mass and remember the pastor they called "Father Ed," whom they described as warm, outgoing and very community-oriented.

Police and church officials guided about 300 parishioners in 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 during a news conference at the county administration building in Morristown, about 20 minutes away.

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 Hinds walked his dog, a cocker spaniel named Copper, through the neighborhood.

Pat Patello, 52, a member of the parish who lives a block from the church, says she deeply misses Hinds.

"It's so sad. I don't think this town will ever get over this, it really gets to the heart of the community," she said Saturday afternoon while walking her dog. "I'm so shocked and saddened … I'm used to seeing him out walking his dog every morning on my way to work. He always waved to me as I drove by."

 

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Category: Church Security

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