Former Priest on Trial for Murder of South Texas Beauty Queen in 1960
By Oscar Margain
December 1, 2017
A former priest accused of a 1960 murder of a South Texas beauty queen is now being tried in state court. It’s a case that has left many unanswered questions about what happened the night the young woman went missing.
Day one of the trial wrapped up at the Hidalgo County court house with opening statements and six witnesses taking the stand on Thursday.
John Bernard Feit, 85, arrived at the 92nd district in a walker next to his defense attorney.
Feit is the first suspect to face any charges connected to the death of Irene Garza, who was 25 years old in 1960. Garza, a second grade teacher, was known as a devout Catholic and local beauty queen.
It was on the night before Easter Sunday in 1960 that Garza was last seen. Witnesses say that she had gone to Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen, Texas for confession.
“it was just a scary unknown that someone you knew and that you loved had disappeared,” Garza’s godsister Sylvia Stern testified on Thursday.
State prosecutors said that the former priest allegedly heard her confession that night and later killed her by asphyxiation.
“She was taken from that confessional and asked to go to the rectory, and it was in the rectory that you will learn that she was attacked by this man, John Feit,” state prosecutor Michael Garza said to the jury as he pointed to the defendant in court.
Garza’s body was found four days later in a canal.
Feit had been previously accused of at least one other aggravated assault against another woman, to which he pleaded no contest. On the murder case, however, he’s maintained his innocence.
Decades have passed, Feit lef thet priesthood and the case went cold until 2002 when more evidence surfaced. However, a grand jury wasn’t able to return an indictment.
“The evidence will show you that there isn’t any forensic evidence whatsoever, collected then or now, that affirmatively relate John Feit to this crime in any way,” defense attorney Oscar Rene Flores said to the 12-member jury.
It wasn’t until 2014, under a new district attorney and pressure from Garza’s relatives, that the case was reopened and Feit was arrested at his home in Phoenix, Arizona. He’s been held in Hidalgo County ever since, awaiting his first day of trial.
The trial could last about 10 days before the public knows the fate of John Feit.