WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- A former priest gets life in prison for killing a parishioner almost six decades ago.
- John Bernard Feit was found guilty of murder by jurors in Hidalgo County in South Texas Thursday night.
- The victim, Irene Garza, was a schoolteacher and a former beauty queen.
Former priest John Feit was sentenced to life in prison for the killing of a parishioner. Prosecutors asked jurors for a 57-year sentence, one year for each year he had gone unpunished since killing Irene Garza in 1960.
The 25-year-old Garza disappeared on April 16, 1960. She went to the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen, Texas for confession. She was met by the parish priest, Rev. John Feit, then 28.
Garza’s body was found days later. She had been raped, beaten and suffocated, according to an autopsy report.
Prosecutor Michael Garza, not related to the victim, had asked the jury not to look at the 85-year-old ex-priest as an elderly but to try to see him as a 28-year-old man capable of doing the crime.
The jury decided on the maximum sentence after just over four hours of deliberation on Friday. At a news conference, Garza said ” it was God-driven” and didn’t want to take credit for the conviction and sentence.
“I can say this: Pigs are flying, and Irene is resting,” he added.
Feit was a suspect over the years due to evidence that pointed to him. Two priests came forward and told authorities that Feit had confessed to them. One said he saw scratches on Feit’s hands soon after Garza was reported missing.
Prosecutors had presented evidence but thought of the reputations of the Catholic church. Sen. John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, was running for president that year.
Instead, Feit was sent to a treatment center for troubled priests in New Mexico. Later, he supervised a department that cleared priests for parish assignments. Among the priests Feit cleared was child molester James Porter, who sexually abused over 100 boys and girls in his parish during the sixties.
The ex-priest had also been accused of attacking another young woman in a church in a nearby town just weeks before Garza’s death. The woman accused him of grabbing her from behind and tried to put a rag over her mouth while she was kneeling at the Holy Communion rail. She picked him out of a police lineup. Feit eventually pleaded no contest and was fined $500.
Feit left the church in 1972, got married and had a family.