October 25, 2009 in Nation/World

Church janitor arrested in slaying of N.J. priest

Victor Epstein Associated Press

MORRISTOWN, N.J. – Authorities investigating the slaying of a priest arrested the church janitor Saturday, alleging he stabbed the cleric 32 times with a kitchen knife after arguing with him in the rectory.

Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi said 64-year-old Jose Feliciano was charged in the murder of the Rev. Ed Hinds, whose body was found Friday in the rectory kitchen of St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Chatham.

The announcement of Feliciano’s arrest was met with shock and tears at Saturday evening Mass, a double blow to the church community where the priest had served for six years and the janitor had worked for 17.

The pair got into an argument on Thursday evening, and it was during the altercation that Feliciano grabbed a knife and stabbed the 61-year-old Hinds multiple times, Bianchi said.

Feliciano, who also faces weapons charges, was arrested Saturday.

Bianchi said investigators found the priest’s cell phone, bloody clothing and bloody towels at Feliciano’s home in Easton, Pa., about 45 miles west of Chatham.

Bianchi said Feliciano was one of two people who looked for Hinds after the priest failed to show up for 8 a.m. Mass on Friday. The pair found the body, and Bianchi said Feliciano was performing CPR on Hinds when officers arrived and his halfhearted attempts struck them as suspicious.

Bianchi said Feliciano’s son graduated from the church’s school, which runs from kindergarten through eighth grade, and his daughter is a student there.

The priest, dressed in his clerical robes, 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.

The slaying rocked the community of about 10,000 residents located 25 miles west of New York City. It was the first violent death in tiny, affluent Chatham since a 1990 manslaughter case.

Parishioner Michael Marotta, 47, said he would not have hesitated to leave his three children in the care of either Hinds or Feliciano, whom he described as caring, quiet, hardworking men.

“Everyone loses in this,” said Marotta, who lives down the street from the church. “The church, the broader Chatham community and the Hinds and Feliciano families. It’s disheartening.”

Earlier Saturday, parishioners had climbed over knee-high crime scene tape that was strung near the church, school and parking lots to attend a morning Mass. They remembered the pastor they called “Father Ed” as warm, outgoing and very community-oriented.

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