A former church janitor accused of killing a New Jersey priest took the stand in his own defense Monday, telling jurors the priest had touched him sexually in exchange for keeping silent about criminal charges the janitor was facing.
A lawyer for Jose Feliciano says his client has admitted to killing the Rev. Edward Hinds in October 2009 in the rectory of St. Patrick Roman Catholic Church in Chatham. But Feliciano has argued he snapped after unspecified threats from the priest, and he is seeking to get the charge downgraded to manslaughter.
Prosecutors say Feliciano stabbed the priest 32 times because he was going to fire him for his refusal to submit to a mandatory fingerprinting and background check required of all church employees who worked around children.
Feliciano testified Monday that he told Hinds in 2003 he couldn't comply with the program because of an outstanding warrant in Philadelphia, The Star-Ledger (http://bit.ly/tnuVcb) reported. Feliciano said Hinds initially told him not to worry about it, but the priest changed his tune a year later after Feliciano told him the warrant was for indecent assault on a 7-year-old girl. The priest was upset by the revelation and asked the janitor and his family to move out of a church-owned property, Feliciano testified.
For the next four years, Feliciano claimed, he let the priest touch his genitals in exchange for Hinds' continuing silence over the criminal charges, which, if revealed, would lead to the 66-year-old Feliciano's immediate termination from a job in which he was nearing retirement.
Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi has sought to portray Feliciano as a cunning liar who methodically planned the crime and its cover-up to the point that he stole the priest's cellphone and ripped a rectory telephone handset out of the wall after the dying priest tried to call 911 for help.
Hinds had been about to fire Feliciano _ and even marked Friday, Oct. 23 in his calendar as "Jose _ last day," Bianchi said during opening arguments, after the janitor had refused to submit to the mandatory employee background check under the "Protecting God's Children" program put in place following the international church sex-abuse scandal.
Police also found evidence on Hinds' computer that he had accessed paid investigative sites, trying to do his own criminal background search on Feliciano, Bianchi said.
Feliciano is scheduled to resume his testimony Tuesday in state Superior Court in Morristown.
Information from: The Star-Ledger, http://www.nj.com/starledger