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Murder suspect met defrocked priest via Craigslist, report says

Updated June 5, 2019 - 9:46 pm

The suspect in the deadly shooting of a defrocked New Jersey priest accused of sexual abuse had responded to a Craigslist post seeking young men to wrestle, according to Henderson police documents.

Derrick Decoste, 25, was “eager to make money” and responded to the advertisement, his girlfriend told police, according to Decoste’s arrest warrant. It was after his second visit to the Henderson home of John Capparelli, the former priest, that he mentioned robbing the 70-year-old man, she told investigators.

“(The girlfriend) later stated that when Decoste went to the victim’s residence to rob him, he would later claim to her that he instead ‘chickened out,’” although he added that he stole wrestling underwear and some wristwatches from the man, according to the documents. She also gave police a bag containing Decoste’s 9 mm handgun and several wristwatches.

A face on one of the watches bore the logo “Newark Teachers Union — Local 481,” which Capparelli’s brother confirmed Capparelli received upon becoming vice president of the union in 2008, the warrant said.

Police penned a warrant on April 4 for Decoste’s arrest on charges of murder and robbery, each with a deadly weapon.

Decoste is jailed in Oakland County, Michigan, on unrelated charges, Henderson police spokeswoman Katrina Rothmeyer said. He is awaiting extradition to Henderson.

Police found Capparelli dead of a gunshot wound March 9 in his home on the 1400 block of Bonner Springs Drive, near Eastern Avenue and Reunion Drive. Capparelli was named February in a list of clergy who “have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors” in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey.

He worked as a Catholic priest and later a teacher in Newark before he was defrocked and lost his teaching certificates in 1992 after dozens of sexual abuse allegations were leveled against him dating to the 1970s and 1980s, according to the New Jersey Star-Ledger newspaper.

Among the previous accusations was that he had created and maintained a “fetish” wrestling website featuring pictures of young athletic men wrestling in tight swimsuits, one of his accusers, 52-year-old Rich Fitter, said in March.

While probing his killing, Henderson investigators found hundreds of homemade DVDs featuring “nearly-nude men wrestling inside of the home, presumably while the victim filmed them” and handwritten logs suggesting he “often kept the company of prostitutes or paid entertainers,” the warrant said.

They discovered a printed Craigslist ad that Capparelli had placed seeking “young and good looking men” who would be willing to wrestle and or compete in “submission matches,” the warrant said.

Neighbors had seen Capparelli alive on March 6. Phone records showed Capparelli exchanged several calls and texts with a cellphone number associated with Decoste from Feb. 21 to that day, the warrant said.

Henderson detectives interviewed Decoste on March 26 in the Clark County Detention Center, where he was being held on an unrelated warrant. They accused him of lying multiple times during their interview, including whether he knew Capparelli, visited his home or owned a gun.

“Throughout the interview, Decoste clearly intended to deceive investigators to include providing misleading information,” the warrant said.

Decoste conceded that he responded to a Craigslist ad for a “gig” to have photos taken, adding that he left after briefly speaking with Capparelli outside his house, the warrant said.

“He claimed when he arrived, the victim exited his home with another subject. According to Decoste, when the victim explained he wished to take photos of Decoste and the suspect hugging each other, Decoste declined and then drove away,” the warrant said.

Police continued to question him about the “inconsistencies” in his answers, and he asked for an attorney.

Forensics testing corroborated that Decoste’s 9 mm handgun “was in fact the murder weapon,” the warrant said.

Neighbors and a friend told investigators that Capparelli typically gambled at his favorite casinos, met friends for meals and tutored out of his home.

Property records indicate that Capparelli bought the Henderson home in 2016 and sold one in New Jersey about that same time.

Capparelli denied the dozens of allegations against him.

His death marked the third homicide investigated by Henderson police and the 20th investigated in Clark County this year, according to records maintained by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Contact Mike Shoro at mshoro@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5290. Follow @mike_shoro on Twitter.

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