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An 85-year-old former priest has been found guilty of murdering a South Texas beauty queen and teacher 57 years after her death.
John Feit was convicted
on December 7 at the Hidalgo County Courthouse in Edinburg for the murder of Irene Garza, who was 25 years old at the time of her death in 1960. Feit's sentencing trial began on Friday morning, and prosecutors are asking that he serve 57 years in prison for the murder.
Garza was a beauty queen crowned Miss All South Texas Sweetheart in 1958, an accomplished teacher, and a devout catholic, according to a 2005 Texas Monthly article
about her death. She disappeared the day before Easter in 1960, shortly after going to confession at Sacred Heart Church in McAllen. She was found dead in a canal a few days later. She had been beaten, raped and suffocated.
The case of her murder went cold after investigators couldn’t find eyewitnesses or forensic evidence linking any suspects to the crime — but they had long suspected Feit, a 27-year-old priest at the time, who was the last to see Garza at Sacred Heart Church before she disappeared.
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Other Sacred Heart priests had pointed out to police that Feit had scratches on his hands around the time Garza disappeared, and a slide viewer belonging to Feit was discovered near the canal where Garza’s body was found. But without more evidence, and with the people of Hidalgo afraid to even think a priest would be able to commit such a crime, Feit went unquestioned for decades.
Law enforcement officials reinvigorated the case in the early 2000s, eventually gathering what they felt was enough evidence to indict Feit. But their efforts were stumped by former Hidalgo County District Attorney Rene Guerra, who had called the evidence against Feit weak and refused to present the case to a grand jury. Though he eventually gave in in 2004 after months of negative publicity from a town that has long sought answers for Garza’s murder, a grand jury decided not to indict Feit. It would be another 13 years before Feit was convicted for the murder.
Ricardo Rodriguez, Hidalgo County's new District Attorney, campaigned against Guerra in 2014 on the promise he would reopen the case of Garza’s murder. In February 2016, Rodriguez’s office presented the case against Feit to a grand jury, leading to Feit’s indictment and arrest by the Texas Rangers, according to The Monitor
The Hidalgo County jury heard five days of testimony, then deliberated for nearly 7 hours before returning with a guilty verdict for Feit.