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June 27, 2019

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Man held in Michigan suspected in slaying of ex-priest in Henderson

John Capparelli

Robert Sciarrino for The Star-Ledger and

John Capparelli in a photo taken at his Belleville home in 2011.

Updated Tuesday, June 4, 2019 | 5:05 p.m.

Click to enlarge photo

Former priest John Capparelli in an undated photo.

Derrick Mitchell Decoste

Derrick Mitchell Decoste

A defrocked Roman Catholic priest slain in March at his Henderson home met his suspected killer through an online ad the victim placed seeking young men to wrestle in submission matches, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.

Henderson Police allege Derrick Mitchell Decoste shot and robbed John Capparelli, 70, who was found dead on March 9.

The suspect’s girlfriend turned over Decoste’s belongings to detectives, including a gun and the victim’s watch, police said.

She said Decoste talked about meeting with Capparelli multiple times and told her he wanted to rob the elderly man but “chickened out,” according to police.

Decoste, 25, was being held at a Michigan jail in an unrelated case. Henderson Police issued a warrant for his arrest in Capparelli’s death on counts of murder and robbery with a deadly weapon.

Capparelli was named in February among 180 priests listed by five New Jersey dioceses as facing credible accusations of sexual abuse. Police said they believe he was shot the following month, three days before his body was found.

One of his friends became concerned after not hearing from him and went to his house in the 1400 block of Bonner Springs Drive, near Sun City Anthem Drive and Eastern Avenue, police said. He called 911 after he saw the man’s body through a rear window, police said.

Officers found an expended 9mm round and noted that the victim’s wallet, cellphone and car keys were missing, police said.

They also discovered “hundreds of homemade DVD’s that featured nearly-nude men wrestling inside (his) home, presumably while the victim filmed them,” police said in the affidavit.

Police also located an online ad printed from Craigslist in which Capparelli had sought wrestlers, according to the affidavit.

Detectives found Decoste’s number in the victim’s phone records, which showed they communicated between late February and March 6, police said. They interviewed him March 26 at the Clark County Detention Center, where he was awaiting extradition, police said.

Decoste admitted knowing the victim but denied killing him, police said.

Decoste’s girlfriend later told police he had responded to the ad seeking wrestlers. After going to Capparelli’s house twice, Decoste told her he thought the victim had money and that he could rob him because the elderly man would be alone, police said.

But following another visit, he told her he had decided against robbing him, police said.

She turned over to police a bag of Decoste’s belongings, including a handgun and a watch inscribed with the words “Newark Teachers Union Local 481” that Capparelli received when he became president of the organization in 2008, according to the affidavit.

Decoste has a previous criminal history including allegations of home invasion, burglary and battery, police said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.