Chatham priest murder trial verdict: Feliciano found guilty
Published: Thursday, December 22, 2011, 10:51 AM Updated: Thursday, December 22, 2011, 1:03 PM
CHATHAM — The slain Rev. Edward Hinds’ closest living relative believes the priest’s reputation was saved by today’s jury verdict finding former church custodian Jose Feliciano guilty of murder and felony murder.
“Everything this man said was nothing but lies and a farce to save his own skin,” Daniel Silas Miller of Chatham Township said of Feliciano’s claims that he was sexually abused by the priest.
“It’s a shame that this pig was able to take such a precious commodity from our community. Ed Hinds was a good man,” said Miller, 49, Hinds’ second cousin who grew up with the future priest in the Green Village section of the township. Hinds’ brother and parents have died and no members of his immediate family are left, Miller said.
“I don’t know if I’m happy,” Miller added. “I just know justice has been served.”
After deliberating for just five hours Wednesday afternoon and this morning, a Morris County jury convicted Feliciano of both murder and felony murder, following a six-week trial in Superior Court in Morristown.
“The witnesses said it all,” commented the jury foreman, Ray Klapal of Randolph. Asked if he included Feliciano among those witnesses, Klapal replied, “Most of them.”
Klapal offered no more comments and the other jurors declined to comment as they left the courthouse after delivering the verdict.
Feliciano stabbed Hinds 44 times in the rectory at St. Patrick Church in Chatham Borough after the priest fired him on Oct. 22, 2009, according to testimony.
Feliciano, 66, of Easton, Pa., testified that he stabbed Hinds, 61, but said he was provoked and contended it was a passion/provocation manslaughter, not a murder.
Feliciano claimed Hinds provoked him when he fired him less than five months before his planned retirement. Hinds had been blackmailing him for four years by forcing him to perform sex acts in exchange for keeping quiet three unresolved criminal charges he faced involving a minor in Philadelphia, Feliciano said.
The prosecution accused Feliciano of making up the sex stories and said he “purposely” murdered Hinds when the priest fired him after learning of the criminal charges about two weeks earlier.
This morning, Feliciano was also found guilty of two counts of robbery, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, unlawful possession of a weapon and hindering apprehension.
Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi released a statement saying: “I am proud and honored to have been part of a process to vindicate Father Hinds’ murder and the slander of his reputation, which obviously the jury soundly did not believe. I can think of no greater Christmas gift to Father Hinds’ soul, and for those that loved and respected him that this conviction happens at Christmas time.”
Feliciano also was charged with felony murder because he robbed Hinds’ cell phone when the priest called 911 during the stabbing.
Feliciano faces a sentence of 30 years to life in prison on each conviction. His sentencing has not been scheduled, but is not expected to take place until February at the earliest, according to court officials.
Feliciano’s public defender, Neill Hamilton, declined to comment on the verdict.
A spokesman for the public defender’s office, Tom Rosenthal, said the office is considering filing an appeal.
“We’re declining to comment while we study the verdict,” he said. “Everyone has the right of appeal.”
In a statement, the Diocese of Paterson commented: “The verdict declaring that Jose Feliciano was guilty of the murder of Father Edward Hinds brings at least some closure to the grieving of his family, the parishioners of Saint Patrick in Chatham, his friends, and the entire diocese. Father Hinds suffered a brutal and painful death. We continue to pray for him that he enjoy the reward of being a great priest and shepherd of souls.
“The diocese thanks Robert Bianchi, the Morris County prosecutor, his staff, and all law enforcement officials who were part of the investigation and trial. They accomplished their work with honor, integrity, and diligence.”