Tuesday, March 15, 2016


In heavily Catholic South Texas at the time, no one wanted to accuse a priest of rape and murder

By Allie Conti

March 10, 2016

When the body of 25-year-old schoolteacher and beauty queen Irene Garza washed up in a canal, no one wanted to accuse the man whose photographic slide viewer was found near her corpse.

That's because the murder took place in the heavily Catholic South Texas in 1960, and the man was a priest. Even though Father John Feit was the chief suspect, and even though he was tied to the assault of another woman that same year, it was unfathomable that a man of God might commit such a heinous act. For decades, no one was charged in connection the to murder. As Garza's aunt would later explain to Texas Monthly, "Who were we to question a priest?"

But Feit, who is now 83, was finally indicted for the crime last month thanks to new evidence that has yet to be made public. On Wednesday, he was extradited from Arizona to Texas to stand trial for first-degree murder by asphyxiation.

On Easter weekend 1960, Garza borrowed her parents' car to go to Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, Texas, and confess to Father Feit. But she never came home. Instead, her body was found five days later across the street from a Sears department store, facedown in the water, with evidence she had been beaten and suffocated. A light-green Eastman Kodaslide belonging to Feit was recovered nearby, and an autopsy would later determine Garza had been raped while in a coma.

Three weeks earlier, another woman named Maria America Guerra was attacked at a different Sacred Heart Church in the nearby town of Edinburg while praying her rosary. She eventually identified Feit in a lineup, and the priest told investigators he had been there that day.

Remarkably, even after Feit's alibis were strongly challenged by witnesses, he was never charged with the murder. The clergyman also gave suspicious––almost baiting––answers on a lie detector test that spanned questions about both Guerra's assault and Garza's murder. The examiner recorded that the test "definitely implicated him in both crimes." Eventually, the priest was charged with attempted rape of Guerra, but the jury deadlocked (with a majority in favor of conviction), and there was a mistrial. He instead pleaded no contest to aggravated assault, for which the penalty was a mere $500 fine.

In 2002, the case was reopened because two former priests said that Feit had confessed, but a grand jury failed to indict after prosecutors bizarrely declined to call either man to testify.

Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez promised during the 2014 election to reexamine the case. "I want to make one thing clear: This case is not about politics," he said in a press conference on Wednesday. "This case is not about proving a point. The only motive in this case is to try to finally bring justice and closure to this cold case."

Feit is currently awaiting trial in the infirmary of the Hidalgo County Jail. According to court records, several different parishes have been subpoenaed for records.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Justice in South Texas? Forget it. Almost every Sheriff from Edinburg has been arrested by the feds over the last 25 years. This is the same city that held a parade and festival for a corrupt Sheriff when he was released from jail around 2000. Nothing changes at the Mexican border. Ever.