Former priest to be transported to Texas in 55-year-old murder case

By Lorenzo Zazueta-Castro
February 24, 2016

PHOENIX — A former priest accused of killing a McAllen woman more than 55 years ago will be in Texas sooner than expected after he waived his right to fight extradition Wednesday afternoon.

With a smile and a wave to his family, John Feit, wearing the black and white pinstripe uniform synonymous with Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s office, walked out of a Phoenix courtroom and back into custody just before 3 p.m.

“I am going to find that you are the person identified in the warrant. The state of Texas has made a demand on the governor of Arizona to surrender you to the state of Texas,” Maricopa County Superior Court Commissioner Phemonia L. Miller said. “Your attorney has indicated that you would like to waive your challenge to the governor’s warrant. Is that correct?”

Feit, in a strained, low voice, answered as he sat in a walker accompanied by his attorney, Timothy J. Eckstein.

“That is correct,” Feit said.

Beginning Thursday, Texas officials will have 30 days to bring the 83-year-old man back to Hidalgo County.

The man long suspected in the death of McAllen schoolteacher Irene Garza, is expected to be picked up by Texas authorities and face legal proceedings in the state where the death took place more than five decades ago.

Immediately following the hearing, Eckstein and members of Feit’s family declined comment and walked out of the Phoenix courtroom packed with local and national media.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Feit’s bond, which had originally been set at $750,000 cash only, was revoked after Miller confirmed the governor’s warrant had been served. The governor’s warrant was signed by Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Secretary of State Carlos H. Cascos on Feb. 17, according to Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez.

Rodriguez said his office would coordinate with Texas Rangers and officials with the McAllen Police Department to transport Feit and bring him to justice in Hidalgo County.

McAllen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez did not return calls for comment.

Feit, who was arrested Feb. 9 at his apartment in Scottsdale, Arizona, had lived in the Phoenix area since the early ’80s when he had started a new life after leaving the priesthood.

Feit continued working for Catholic charities and worked at the Society of St. Vincent De Paul, a Catholic lay organization, from 1987 to 2004. He worked as a volunteer recruiter for the organization’s food pantry program, according to a spokesman at St. Vincent De Paul.

In an emailed statement, Steven J. Zabilski, the executive director at the organization, said he knew Feit as a caring man.

“John Feit was known by everyone as a very kind and compassionate person. He always wanted to help others, especially those most in need. I was shocked and saddened to learn of his arrest, and continue to pray for everyone involved,” Zabilski said.

In a phone interview after the hearing, Rodriguez said he couldn’t give an exact date on when Feit would be back in the Rio Grande Valley.

When asked if Feit’s trial would be held in Hidalgo County, Rodriguez declined to comment but said he was glad the extradition portion of the process was over with.

“We’re one step closer to dispensing justice,” Rodriguez said.



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