An ex-priest was convicted of murdering a 25-year-old Texas schoolteacher and beauty queen on Thursday, more than 57 years after Irene Garza went to Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen intending to go to confession. Garza's body was found days after her April 16, 1960, disappearance. An autopsy revealed that she had been raped while unconscious and had been beaten and suffocated. A Hidalgo County jury deliberated for more than six hours before returning its verdict in the murder trial of John Bernard Feit, an 85-year-old former priest, after hearing five days of testimony, the AP reports. Feit, who was 28 at the time of her death, came under suspicion early on, telling police that he heard Garza's confession in the rectory next to the church, but denying he killed her.
Prosecutors presented evidence that elected and church officials suspected Feit killed her but wanted to avoid prosecuting him because it might harm the church's reputation. Among the evidence that pointed to Feit as a suspect over the years: His portable photographic slide viewer was found near Garza's body. Two fellow priests told authorities Feit confessed to them. And one of them said he saw scratches on Feit soon after Garza's disappearance. Also, Feit had been accused of attacking another young woman in a church in a nearby town just weeks before Garza's death. He eventually pleaded no contest and was fined $500. Feit, who left the priesthood in 1972, could now be sentenced to up to life imprisonment.