|Janitor: Priest Groped Me Minutes before Killing
By Peggy Wright
December 13, 2011
Jose Feliciano told a jury for the first time Tuesday that the Rev. Edward Hinds tried to sexually grope him in his Chatham rectory just minutes before Feliciano fatally stabbed him after the priest fired him from his longtime job.
Feliciano, 66, spent a seventh day on the witness stand testifying at his trial in Morristown, where Morris County Prosecutor Robert A. Bianchi tried all day to trip him up on the dates and details of how the pastor of St. Patrick Roman Catholic Church in Chatham allegedly molested the janitor over a five-year period.
Feliciano has admitted he stabbed the 61-year-old cleric 44 times on Oct. 22, 2009. But he says the killing occurred in a spontaneous rage after the priest fired him for unspecified reasons related to the parish after years of sexually abusing him. Feliciano claims he told the priest in 2004, in the sanctity of the confessional, that he was wanted in Philadelphia for committing a crime against a child and that the priest kept his background secret for years in exchange for Feliciano making himself available for fondling.
Bianchi and Assistant Prosecutor David Bruno have charged that Feliciano is a liar who excels at making himself appear pitiful and that the priest rightfully decided to fire him after verifying in 2009 that he was a fugitive from Pennsylvania. The defense is aiming for a passion/provocation manslaughter verdict; prosecutors want a conviction for purposeful murder.
When questioned by one of his lawyers, Balin Baidwan, Feliciano had been fairly precise with the months and years of sexual abuse and what acts occurred. Under cross-examination Tuesday by Bianchi, Feliciano muddled the dates and amended his version of the sex acts. He also claimed for the first time in the trial that the priest tried to sexually caress him before their fatal argument in the rectory.
But on other details Tuesday, Feliciano was consistent. He told how one encounter occurred when he approached Hinds about needing help in keeping his son at a Catholic high school in Pennsylvania and another time during a discussion with the priest about the lack of hot water in one parish building.
Bianchi frequently accused Feliciano of making up stories as he testified. He also questioned why the priest in 2004 would jeopardize the parish and its children by keeping Feliciano on the job after he supposedly confessed to him that he abused a child in Philadelphia. Feliciano testified he initially lied to the priest and another church worker, telling them he wouldn’t pass a fingerprint check because he had a drug problem in Pennsylvania. He claimed he ultimately told the pastor the truth in the confessional, but Bianchi suggested he was lying.
“Father Ed was allowing you to continue to work around children while you were a fugitive?” Bianchi asked.
“He allowed me to stay, sir,” Feliciano replied.
“It wouldn’t be that you lied to him” (about the nature of the Philadelphia trouble) Bianchi asked.
“No, sir, I told him,” Feliciano said.
Also for the first time, Feliciano, looking shame-faced, claimed that he felt aroused at least twice when the priest, allegedly, touched him. He repeatedly has said their intimacy was not reciprocated and that as a married man he felt disgusted. He has told jurors that though he tried to discourage the advances he let encounters happen because he needed his custodial job at the church.
The trial will resume today before Superior Court Judge Thomas V. Manahan in Morristown.
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