CHATHAM, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Jurors in New Jersey convicted a janitor of murder Thursday in the fatal stabbing of a Catholic priest in 2009.
The jury had no compassion for Jose Feliciano, who showed no mercy, as he stabbed Father Edward Hinds over and over — 44 times in total — inside the rectory of St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Chatham.
Jurors had been weighing whether Feliciano was guilty of murder or the lesser charge of manslaughter in Hinds’ killing. He was also charged with felony murder, two counts of robbery and two weapons counts. He will be sentenced in February.
Feliciano’s lawyer told jurors during closing arguments Monday that his client killed the priest in a fit of rage after being sexually blackmailed by Hinds, who learned the janitor had an outstanding warrant for molesting a child.
However, the shocking attempt to justify murder was rejected by the jury that found the 66-year-old Feliciano guilty. Hinds’ family called the defense strategy “vile.”
Eileen O’Keefe, a resident of Chatham, said almost no one in the community believed the ugly claims.
“The majority, I do believe, felt that Father Ed was really crucified here,” O’Keefe said.
In court, Father Hinds’ family members hugged each other as the guilty verdict came in, saying justice had finally been served.
“To us it was like he was slaughtered twice,” Hinds’ cousin, Daniel Miller, said of the allegations. “To say those things to try to save his own skin is beyond belief.”
Feliciano even took the stand in his own defense during the trial, admitting he killed the beloved priest. The defense never denied the killing.
“I just went crazy and I approached him and I stabbed him,” Feliciano had testified earlier.
Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi said the fact that the jury needed only five hours to find Feliciano guilty of murder said it all.
“Not only is there a guilty verdict, but I have to be quite frank: Father Hinds’ reputation has been restored resoundingly,” Bianchi said.
While jurors weren’t commenting, family members had plenty to say about Father Hinds.
“He robbed the community of a good priest, a good member of the community and he robbed our family of something that we can never replace,” Daniel Miller said. “All his mother wanted was a priest, and Ed was a darned good one.”
“Kind, loving — just a good man. A really good man who wanted to do nothing, but serve God and his people,” family member Carol Ann Miller said.
“I think it’s going to bring a lot of closure to the parish. It’s been a tough two years, basically,” Anne Bukata told CBS 2′s Sean Hennesey.
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