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Judge delays ruling on confession in New Jersey priest murder

By Bernd Debusmann Jr.

MORRISTOWN, New Jersey (Reuters) - A New Jersey judge said on Thursday he will not make a decision for at least a week on whether to admit into trial the confession of a church janitor accused of killing a local priest.

Jose Feliciano, 65, of Easton, Pennsylvania, is charged with murder and robbery in the October 22, 2009 stabbing death of Rev. Edward Hinds at St. Patrick's Church in Chatham, New Jersey.

Ahead of a trial, Morris County Superior Court Judge Thomas Manahan is deciding the admissibility of statements the janitor made to authorities following the slaying.

In court on Thursday, the judge said he would reserve his decision at least until further arguments are presented at a hearing set for February 17.

Defense attorneys said the confession should not be allowed as evidence because they said the investigator misled Feliciano into thinking his family would be taken care of if he confessed to the crime.

At Thursday's hearing, prosecutors played the videotape of Feliciano describing the stabbing to Captain Jeffrey Paul, an investigator with the Morris County Prosecutor's Office.

Feliciano says on the tape that the two men argued when the janitor wanted to end what he said was a four-year sexual relationship.

He says on the tape that when he asked the priest "to let me be," the priest threatened to fire him. Feliciano says on the tape that he grabbed a knife and began stabbing Hinds until he was dead.

Feliciano attended the day-long hearing, sitting quietly with his head bowed, wearing an orange prison jumpsuit.

In the videotape, the investigator asks Feliciano several times if he wants to stop talking and get an attorney and each time Feliciano says no.

The judge earlier this week denied a motion to suppress phone records used to track Feliciano and also said he will allow prosecutors to admit Feliciano's criminal history if he testifies. A trial date has not yet been set.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Greg McCune)