Jury Convicts Retired Priest in 1960 Murder

A  jury in South Texas Thursday night convicted a retired priest in the  murder of a young woman who went to his church for confession back in  1960, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

 Prosecutors presented a number of witnesses who had seen Irene Garza,  25, go into the Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, where The Rev. John Feit  was a visiting priest, during Holy Week of 1960.  That was the last  time the teacher and local beauty queen was seen alive.  Her body was found in a canal near the church a week later, she  had been smothered. 

 Lead prosecutor Michael Garza called John Feit, now 85, a 'wolf in priest's clothing.'

Over five days of testimony, Garza called nearly two dozen witnesses,  including a retired monk who said Feit confessed to him that he had  killed Garza. 

 Dale Traciney was a Trappist monk in Missouri where the Catholic Church transferred Feit after the murder. He said Feit, who was then 27, told him he assaulted, bound and  gagged Garza, then placed her into a cellophane bag.  When he returned,  she was dead and the monk said Feit told him he dumped her body along a  nearby roadway.  Garza told the jury the attack came after Feit told the victimshe was 'too good' for confession and instead  invited her to his residence in the rectory next door.  

Testimony indicated that Feit's transfer to the monastery was not an  accident, in fact, there was an active effort by the Catholic Church at  the time to make sure the priest was not prosecuted.  

A letter written by a priest to another Catholic church leader three  months after Garda vanished discussed transferring Feit  'to another  part of the country as a normal obedience,' and referred to putting heat  on the Sheriff to quietly drop Feit as a suspect.  

"He is also of the opinion that the prosecution must be made to see just  how weak their case is, lest they go off half-cocked, and set the  wheels into motion that would bring this out in public print, and give  the opponents of the Church a field day," the priest wrote, adding that bringing a lurid murder case against a Catholic  priest 'could make this a juicy scandal for the opposition to Kennedy.' 

 John Kennedy was running for President at the time, and his Catholic  faith had become an issue in the campaign.  The text of the letter was  entered as evidence in the case.  

Defense attorney Richard Flores declined to call Feit as a witness, but  he grilled a retired Texas Ranger who investigated the case in 2002  about other priests who may have been at the church at the time.  

He  conceded he interviewed another priest in Mexico who 'appeared nervous' and who has later murdered.  

The Rangers  conducted the investigation as part of an effort to clear high profile  cold cases from around the state. 

 Another defense witness testified that he saw Garza in the church an hour or more after prosecutors said she had been killed.  

The case of the murdered beauty queen has become legend in the Rio  Grande Valley of Texas, the area that hugs the Rio Grande just across  from Mexico.  In fact, current Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo  Rodriguez was elected in 2014 on a promise to re-open the case.  Feit was extradited to Texas from a retirement home in  Arizona earlier this year.  

Feit now faces up to life in prison.  Sentencing is set to begin on Friday.

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