LAS VEGAS, Nevada — A man being held in a Michigan jail was identified Tuesday as a suspect in the killing of a defrocked Catholic priest who moved to suburban Las Vegas after facing what the Church called credible accusations of sexual abuse in New Jersey.
The suspect, Derrick Mitchell Decoste, 25, met and exchanged messages with 70-year-old John Capparelli for several weeks after answering an internet ad for male wrestlers, according to a Henderson police document filed as part of the effort to extradite Decoste to Nevada to face murder and armed robbery charges.
The affidavit suggests robbery was the motive for the killing.
Decoste denied involvement in the death of Capparelli, who was found dead at his home on March 9 with a gunshot wound to his neck, police said.
He died weeks after five New Jersey dioceses included him among 180 priests cited in accusations of sexual abuse.
Capparelli lived alone and tutored students at his house, police have said.
Inside the home, police found hand-written logs involving “paid entertainers” and indications that Capparelli had posted internet ads seeking young, good-looking men.
Police said text message and telephone records showed he began communicating with Decoste around Feb. 21 and that the calls stopped March 6.
Police interviewed Decoste after he was arrested March 12 in Las Vegas on unrelated petty theft and trespassing charges that were later dismissed when he was transferred from Nevada to Michigan to face multiple charges including theft, fraud and impersonating a police officer.
Henderson police said Decoste’s girlfriend in Las Vegas gave investigators a 9mm handgun that she said belonged to Decoste. Police linked it to the bullet that killed Capparelli.
Police also said they found a bag containing Capparelli’s personal items, including a wristwatch with a Newark Teachers Union logo that a relative said Capparelli received as union vice president in 2008.
Capparelli was defrocked as a priest in 1992 in New Jersey after being accused of groping and brutalizing teenage boys in the 1970s and 1980s at churches around the state. He worked as a public school math teacher in Newark until other allegations emerged in 2011.
Henderson police said investigators found hundreds of videos in Capparelli’s home featuring “nearly nude men wrestling … presumably while the victim filmed them.”
Crux is dedicated to smart, wired and independent reporting on the Vatican and worldwide Catholic Church. That kind of reporting doesn’t come cheap, and we need your support. You can help Crux by giving a small amount monthly, or with a onetime gift. Please remember, Crux is a for-profit organization, so contributions are not tax-deductible.