NEWARK, N.J. - A former church janitor was convicted Thursday of murdering a New Jersey priest who was stabbed more than 30 times while brewing a cup of coffee in his kitchen, wearing his clerical robes.
Jose Feliciano, 66, of Easton, Pa., didn't deny stabbing the Rev. Edward Hinds to death in the rectory of St. Patrick Roman Catholic Church in Chatham in October 2009. But his lawyer told jurors during closing arguments on Monday that Feliciano killed him in a fit of rage over sexual blackmail.
The prosecution said Feliciano "slaughtered" the priest after Hinds discovered Feliciano had an outstanding arrest warrant in Philadelphia from the 1980s for sexually touching a child, and fired him.
Feliciano argued the priest demanded sex in exchange for keeping quiet about the warrant.
Feliciano, who testified for eight days during the trial, was found guilty in Morristown of murder, felony murder, two counts of robbery and two weapons counts. He is scheduled to be sentenced in February.
"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," Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi, who tried the case, said.
The 61-year-old Hinds was in his clerical robes when he was killed while brewing coffee. His body was found on a Friday morning after he failed to appear for Mass.
The slaying rocked Chatham, a well-to-do community of about 10,000 residents, where Hinds was a familiar face and beloved presence. It was the first violent death there since a 1990 manslaughter case.
Feliciano had been employed by the parish since 1991. Prosecutors said he had used aliases and fake identification over the years to mask his past.
The state public defender's office, which represented Feliciano, declined to comment on the verdict or whether an appeal would be filed.