In trial, attorney for church custodian accused of murdering Chatham priest delivers opening statement

| October 22, 2011

CHATHAM BOROUGH — A Chatham priest remained silent after learning of church custodian Jose Feliciano’s criminal past, but made him pay such a “high price” that he angered the janitor into killing him, a defense attorney said today.

Feliciano’s public defender, Neill Hamilton, detailed his defense for the first time this afternoon in his opening statement in the former janitor’s murder trial. Feliciano is accused in the Oct. 22, 2009 stabbing death of the Rev. Edward Hinds of St. Patrick Church.

“For the price he (Hinds) made Mr. Feliciano pay, for the things he made Mr. Feliciano do, he provoked Mr. Feliciano so much that a reasonable person would fly into a homicidal rage,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton admitted in Superior Court in Morristown that Feliciano, 66, of Easton, Pa., killed Hinds, 61, and noted that he confessed to the slaying in an interview with a prosecutor’s investigator.

But Hamilton told the jury the killing was a “passion/provocation manslaughter” and not a murder. “The provocation impassioned Mr. Feliciano so much that he did not have time to cool off,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton would not specify what Hinds’ price was, or exactly what Hinds made Feliciano do.

In the interview with the investigator, Feliciano said he killed Hinds after the priest threatened to fire him for ending a four-year sexual affair.

However, Judge Thomas Manahan ruled that Hamilton could not mention the interview’s reference to a sexual affair in his opening statement, because it would be inadmissible “hearsay.” He said he may use it only if Feliciano takes the stand. Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi said he does not intend to introduce the interview.

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