Photo: Alessandra Benedetti/Corbis via Getty Images
Photo: Alessandra Benedetti/Corbis via Getty Images

Ex-priest to stand trial in murder of Texas beauty queen 57 years ago

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Jury selection got underway Monday in Hildago County in the trial of John Bernard Feit.

Feit, now 84, is accused of killing Irene Garza, 25, who was last seen going to confession at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen, Texas in April of 1960. Garza was found dead in a canal five days after she vanished, according to news reports. An autopsy revealed the schoolteacher — and Miss All South Texas Sweetheart 1958 — had been raped, beaten and suffocated.

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Feit, who was 27 at the time of Garza’s murder, was the Catholic priest who heard her confession and had long been suspected of killing her, but was ruled out as a suspect after church officials reportedly pressured police.

The case went cold for years until the early 2000s, when a witness — Rev. Joseph O’Brien — told investigators that Feit had admitted to the killing and had scratches on his hands around the time of Garza’s disappearance. A lack of new evidence, however, prevented a new indictment.

The case was again reopened in 2014 by the then-recently elected district attorney, Ricardo Rodriguez, who appealed for a new grand jury leading to the 2016 arrest of Feit.

According to CNN, Feit was 27 years old at the time of Garza’s disappearance. He reportedly failed polygraph tests when questioned by police, and just 24 days before the Garza killing, the ex-priest had been arrested in an attack on another young woman in a nearby church. He pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge and received no prison time.

Feit was extradited to Texas from his home in Arizona last year and has remained at Hidalgo County jail on 24-hour medical watch due to health issues, the NY Daily News reported.

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Feit has denied any involvement in Garza’s murder.

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