An elderly ex-Catholic priest has been sentenced to life in prison for the 1960 murder of a young Texan beauty queen who went to his church to go to confession, marking the end of a tragic case that baffled investigators for decades.
John Bernard Feit, 85, was found guilty by jury of murdering 25-year-old schoolteacher Irene Garza, CBS News reported. She went missing on April 16, 1960, and it wasn’t until several days later that her body was found.
An autopsy revealed that she had been beaten to the point of unconsciousness, raped, and then suffocated. Police questioned Feit, who was 28 about the time, about her disappearance, and he admitted to hearing Garza’s confession but denied killing her.
The case soon went cold and Feit went to New Mexico to attend a treatment center for troubled priests. By 1972, he had abandoned the priesthood altogether, married, and begun working at a Catholic charity in Phoenix, Arizona.
It wasn’t until 2002 that investigators received another big break in the case. Dale Tacheny, who was a monk at the monastery where Feit applied to live in 1963, told police in San Antonio that Feit confessed to murdering a young woman decades earlier.
“He assaulted her, bound and gagged her,” Tacheny read from a letter he gave to police. “…Later, I do not remember if it was hours or days, he moved her to another location, and after some time he placed her in a cellophane bag and put her into a bathtub. As he left, he could hear her saying, ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.’”
In 2014, newly-elected Hidalgo County criminal district attorney Ricardo Rodriguez promised to re-examine the case against Feit, a move that would eventually lead to the former priest getting charged for Garza’s murder in March 2016.
“I just feel like justice has been served,” Noemi Sigler, a relative of the victim, told reporters after the verdict. “I’m so sorry, I’m so tired. It’s been such a long, long, long journey.”