Feliciano Gets Life Without Parole For Priest's Murder
Convicted murderer also sentenced to an additional 25 years for robbery, hindering prosecution.
With family and friends of the late Rev. Edward Hinds present, Jose Feliciano was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for the murder of the Chatham priest on Friday afternoon.
The sentence was given by Morris County Superior Court Judge Thomas V. Manahan after Feliciano, 66, had been found guilty of seven charges by a Morris County Superior Court jury on Dec. 22. Hinds was found stabbed to death in the St. Patrick Church rectory, where he was pastor, on Oct. 23, 2009.
Feliciano declined to address the court before sentencing. His attorney, Public Defender Neill Hamilton, asked the judge to merge the sentences, since Feliciano's conviction on felony murder carries a sentence of 30 years to life.
Four friends, relatives and parishioners of Hinds, gave impact statements before the Manahan pronounced the sentence.
Daniel Silas Miller, Hinds' cousin, was the first to speak. He told the court how those who loved his cousin, referred to among those who knew him as "Father Ed," heard his reputation smeared by "lies told by this man. ... I know that one day Jose will meet his maker," and when the day comes, Miller said, he will not be able to tell any more lies.
Judith and Richard Conk, both old friends of Hinds, also spoke at the sentencing. Judith said Hinds was part of her family, "as close as any blood relative," and described for the court the hole left in her family with his death.
"I pray for the grace to forgive him," she said, "but it has not come yet."
Michelle Lowe, a parishioner of the church in Chatham Borough where Hinds served as priest, also gave a statement, she said, on behalf of the parish and school of St. Patrick.
Hinds' murder, Lowe said, was "a tragedy with many layers of loss." She described how Feliciano lived on parish grounds for many years with his family. She described how parents of students trusted him with their children, how he would lead them in prayer and join them at lunch.
"This was a man deeply rooted in our community life, and trusted with our most valuable gifts, our children," she said.
Then she took the court back to Friday, Oct. 23, 2009, when Hinds' body was discovered, when the school was on lock-down. She took the court into the homes of the children from St. Patrick School, whose trust and faith in the goodness of the world was shaken by Hinds' murder, she said. She described bedroom lights left on during the nights and "closets checked and rechecked. ...
"How do you make the world feel safe for your children after witnessing sheer betrayal and evil?" Lowe asked.
All four speakers asked Manahan to impose the sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, the maximum sentence for felony murder. They all thanked the prosecutor's office and those who worked toward Feliciano's conviction.
"The lies our community was forced to listen to throughout the trial [were] unthinkable for the people who really knew and loved Ed Hinds," Lowe said.
Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi also spoke passionately about the betrayal experienced by the community of St. Patrick and by Hinds himself. He called Hinds "the first victim of Protecting God's Children," in reference to the Catholic Church's program requiring background checks and fingerprinting of all employees with access to children.
In the course of investigating Feliciano's allegations of sexual abuse, Bianchi said, prosecutors had to "[probe] his life, his diaries, his personal effects, his bed sheets, foraging through to see if there was any evidence. ... Nothing, nothing [supported the claim] that this ever occurred."
Manahan sentenced Feliciano to life in prison without parole on the felony murder charge, and to 20 years on the robbery charge to be served concurrently. He was also sentenced a further five years for hindering his own prosecution, to be served consecutive to the 20 years for robbery.
Without the life imprisonment sentence, Manahan said, Feliciano might have been paroled after serving 85 percent of the 20-year sentence.
Feliciano has 45 days to appeal the sentence and five years to file for conviction relief.