Woman Disappears During Confessional In 1960, And Now The Priest Is Facing Murder Charges

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Joshua Gill Religion Reporter
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An ex-priest potentially faces life in prison after a court convicted him Thursday of raping and murdering a Texas beauty queen almost 60 years ago.

The court heard testimonies Friday in the punishment phase of the trial of John Bernard Feit, 85, who the court convicted the day before of killing Irene Garza, a schoolteacher and beauty queen, in McAllen, Texas, in 1960, according to The Associated Press. The jury can sentence Feit to a maximum of life in prison. The prosecution asked the jury for a sentence of 57 years, since that is how long he walked free after killing Garza.

Feit served at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen when Garza disappeared April 16, 1960. Police found Garza’s body days later and discovered via autopsy that she had been beaten, strangled, and raped while unconscious.

Feit, then 28, was already accused of attacking another woman to which he pleaded no contest and paid a $500 fine. Authorities suspected Feit in the murder of Garza and then confirmed him as the murderer when two priests told police Feit confessed to them that he killed her. Feit was never charged.

Prosecutors presented evidence that both church leaders and city officials chose to look the other way rather than prosecute the priest so as to protect the reputation of the church and the elected city administration, that was predominantly Catholic.

Feit beat, suffocated, and raped Garza after taking her confession at the church. He then put Garza in a cellophane bag and left her in a bathtub in the basement of the church’s rectory, leaving as she cried out for help and said she could not breathe, according to People.

“He put the young lady in a bathtub,” testified former monk Dale Tacheny on Monday. “As he was leaving, the young lady said ‘I cannot breathe, I cannot breathe.’ Then he left.”

Tacheny said Feit confessed to him in 1963 when Feit was sent to his monastery — a rehabilitation center in New Mexico for troubled priests. Feit eventually became a supervisor at the center and was responsible for clearing priests to return to ministry and making sure they were fit to do so. Feit cleared James Porter, a child molester who was eventually defrocked and imprisoned after he sexually assaulted over 100 people.

Garza’s family continually sought for the case of her murder to be reopened and fully investigated.

Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo reopened the case after promising that he would do so to the Garza family during his 2014 campaign if he was reelected.

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Joshua Gill