A church janitor facing termination for his refusal to submit to a background check stabbed a New Jersey priest to death, intercepted the dying man's 911 call to police and returned to work the next day to dramatically grieve over the priest's body, prosecutors said during opening statements Thursday.
Jose Feliciano could face life in prison if he's convicted of fatally stabbing the Rev. Edward Hinds in the rectory of St. Patrick Roman Catholic Church in Chatham in the fall of 2009.
Feliciano, a 66-year-old Easton, Pa., resident, previously claimed he killed the priest because Hinds threatened to fire him if he ended their homosexual relationship.
Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi said during opening statements Thursday morning that the Rev. Hinds was preparing to fire Feliciano, who had worked at the church for 18 years, after his refusal to submit to a fingerprinting and background check program called "Protecting God's Children," put in place by the diocese in response to the international church sex abuse scandal. Bianchi said police found evidence on Hinds' computer that he had accessed paid investigative sites, trying to do his own criminal background search on Feliciano.
Prosecutors said previously that Feliciano made up the sexual abuse story because Hinds was preparing to fire him after learning Feliciano had been charged in 1988 with sexually touching a child. Bianchi did not mention those findings in his opening statements, however.
A series of 911 calls were played for jurors Thursday. In the first call, Hinds can be heard trying to respond to a dispatcher questioning his location before the line goes dead. The reverse 911 system kicks in, and the second call goes to Hinds' voicemail. On the third call, a man the prosecutor identified as Felicano picks up and tells the dispatcher there is no emergency.
"That's a man who is deceiving, covering up his crime, a liar, a fabricator that doesn't care a white that he's murdering another human being," Bianchi said.
Feliciano, wearing a navy suit, glasses and with a graying beard, kept his head lowered during much of Bianchi's opening, as if taking notes.
A few parishioners were in attendance in State Superior Court on Thursday. They said the case had been devastating for the St. Patrick's community, where both Hinds and Feliciano were well-liked, respected church members.
The defense is expected to begin its opening statements Thursday afternoon.
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