Trial Begins in Case of Former Priest Accused of Killing Texas Beauty Queen in 1960
November 30, 2017
A prosecutor tells jurors evidence will show an 85-year-old former Catholic priest was responsible for the slaying of a South Texas teacher and ex-beauty queen 57 years ago. 48 Hours investigated the case in the 2014 episode, "The Last Confession."
Opening statements and testimony began Thursday in the trial of John Feit in Edinburg, Texas.
He's accused of the April 1960 beating and suffocation of 25-year-old Irene Garza. Garza's body was found in an irrigation canal in McAllen, Texas. The last time anybody saw the beauty queen, she was going to confession at Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Feit, 27 at the time, heard that confession. He was a visiting priest.
The Monitor of McAllen reports prosecutor Michael Garza told jurors that Feit committed the murder "with malice and forethought." According to Reuters, prosecutors argued that after hearing Garza's confession, Feit lured her into the rectory, where he killed her.
Defense attorney O. Rene Flores says there isn't enough evidence to convict Feit, who was living in Arizona at the time of his arrest last year.
Prosecutors are expected to present evidence about Feit pleading no contest to attacking a young woman weeks before Garza's death.
Feit was tried in 1961 in that case, but the jury deadlocked. To avoid another trial, he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was fined $500.
While police interviewed hundreds of people in connection with Garza's murder, Feit was their focus. He was the last person to see Garza alive. However, no charges were filed against Feit in Garza's case at the time. Feit eventually left McAllen, and the case went cold amid what many believed was a cover-up by the church.
Then, in 2002, Texas Ranger Rudy Jaramillo got information about a new witness, a former monk. That monk said Feit told him during counseling sessions about attacking Garza.
"I covered up the evidence," the ex-monk, Dale Tacheny, told "48 Hours." in 2014."I'm sorry for what I did."
Feit later claimed not remember the conversation and denied killing Garza. Another priest later said Feit had told him the same thing.
Garza's family has been pushed the Hidalgo County District Attorney's Office for years to move on the case, demanding justice for Garza. The issue became a flashpoint in local politics, and the case was eventually re-opened by a new district attorney who took office in 2015.
The office charged Feit in Garza's death the next year.
Feit has pleaded not guilty. He denied killing Garza to "48 Hours" correspondent Richard Schlesinger in 2014.