Janitor indicted in Chatham priest’s slaying

| January 27, 2010

The former custodian of St. Patrick Roman Catholic Church in Chatham was indicted Tuesday on charges of murdering and robbing the church's pastor last October.

The indictment, handed up by a Morris County grand jury, charges Jose R. Feliciano, 64, with two counts of murder, robbery, hindering his own apprehension, unlawful possession of a weapon, and possession of a weapon — a knife — for an unlawful purpose.

The 61-year-old Rev. Edward Hinds, who suffered 32 stab wounds, was slain in the rectory of the church on the evening of Oct. 22, allegedly by the man who served as the church's maintenance man for 17 years. Authorities have said the killing likely was preceded by a conversation or argument between Hinds and Feliciano over the janitor's continued employment at the church.

Kenneth Mullaney, counsel for the Diocese of Paterson, said Tuesday that he also has been led to believe that the killing was probably over the issue of Feliciano's job. The parish did not find out until after the killing, but Feliciano had kept a secret for 21 years — that he was wanted in Philadelphia for failure to answer to charges of corruption of minors and indecent assault.

Mullaney said the Catholic Church, beginning in March 2009, was making a concerted effort to see that every employee and volunteer who worked with or around children completed a special, three-phase program.

This included education on the protection of children, which Feliciano completed, Mullaney said. But Mullaney said he does not know whether Feliciano complied with the fingerprint and background-check component of the program.

Hinds' body was found about 8 a.m. on Oct. 23 in the church rectory after the cleric failed to appear to serve morning Mass. Feliciano was among the people who ''discovered" him, and police have said Feliciano made half-hearted attempts to resuscitate the priest.

The robbery count in the indictment relates to Feliciano allegedly swiping the priest's cellular phone and bringing it home to Easton, Pa. after the slaying. A robbery charge relates to a person inflicting injury or using force while committing a theft.

After his arrest, Feliciano was transferred to the Ann Klein Forensic Center in Trenton, where mentally unstable defendants are housed. He was transferred back to the Morris County jail on Jan. 20, and is being held on $1 million bail.

Authorities said they learned after the slaying about an old warrant for Feliciano's arrest out of Philadelphia, on the two charges he kept secret for years.. The warrant was issued 21 years ago and was listed as "inactive" in Philadelphia court records. Philadelphia authorities have never responded to questions about the background of those charges against Feliciano, who currently is married and has two children.

Feliciano will next be scheduled to appear in Superior Court, Morristown, for arraignment on the indictment.



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Category: Church Security