Ex-priest to stand trial for 1960 murder
of Texas beauty queen
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[November 28, 2017]
By Jon Herskovitz
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - A former Roman
Catholic priest is due to stand trial this week on charges he beat,
raped and strangled to death a Texas beauty queen nearly 60 years ago
after hearing her last confession.
Lawyers for John Feit, 84, have denied his responsibility for the 1960
murder of Irene Garza, 25, in McAllen, Texas, and said in court filings
that he was wrongly accused of “one of the most notorious and heavily
publicized crimes in the history of the Rio Grande Valley.”
Jury selection is scheduled to begin on Tuesday and opening statements
are expected on Thursday at a state district court in Hidalgo county in
south Texas. The trial is likely to take about two weeks, county
officials said on Monday.
Garza, a former Miss South Texas and second-grade school teacher, was
last seen giving confession during Holy Week at Sacred Heart Catholic
Church on April 16, 1960, according to the Texas Rangers cold case
Her body was found five days later in a nearby canal. An autopsy showed
that Garza had been raped while comatose and died of suffocation.
Feit had initially been considered by authorities to be a suspect in the
case but was not indicted. He had been implicated in the assault of
another woman in the area a few weeks before Garza's disappearance, but
pleaded no contest to aggravated assault and served no jail time.
Shortly after Garza's body was found, Feit was ordered by his church
superiors to leave McAllen, the Dallas Morning News reported.
Feit later left the priesthood and moved to Arizona, where he started a
Texas Rangers investigating cold cases reported in 2002 that a local
priest had told them, shortly after Garza's body was found, that he had
seen scratches on the hands of Feit, who was a visiting priest at Sacred
Heart Church at the time.
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John Feit, 83, is shown in this Maricopa County Sheriff's Office
(MCSO) photo received after his arrest in Arizona, U.S. on February
9, 2016. MCSO/Handout via Reuters//File Photo
The local priest, Father Joseph O'Brien, also told investigators
that Feit had confessed to the murder, law enforcement officials
said. Feit has denied that.
Charges were only filed in 2016, however, after a new district
attorney for the county won his seat in part on a promise to seek
justice in the Garza murder.
Attorneys for Feit tried unsuccessfully to have the trial moved,
arguing that local residents had been prejudiced against him by
decades of biased media reports.
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Additional reporting by Jim Forsyth in
San Antonio; Editing by Tom Brown)
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