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57 Years Later, Ex-Priest on Trial for Beauty Queen's Murder

John Feit heard Irene Garza's confession before she was found dead
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 5, 2017 12:34 PM CDT

(Newser) – More than 57 years after a 25-year-old beauty queen was found slain in Texas, a former Catholic priest will face trial for her murder next week. It was Easter weekend in April 1960 when Irene Garza, whom Courthouse News describes as a "devoutly religious schoolteacher," drove to Sacred Heart Catholic Church for confession on the evening of Holy Saturday. According to witnesses and, eventually, accused killer John Feit himself, Feit—then a 27-year-old visiting priest—heard her confession in the rectory next door to the church. She was never seen alive again, and her body was found five days later, face-down in a canal. She had suffered a head wound and been raped while unconscious, per an autopsy; the medical examiner concluded she was likely killed by suffocation. In 2002, there was a break in the case when Sacred Heart's priest revealed a secret.

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Back in the 1960s, Joseph O'Brien told the Texas Rangers and Garza's family, he had heard Feit confess. But O'Brien wasn't called to testify during a 2004 grand jury probe, and he died in 2005. Another grand jury returned a first-degree murder indictment against Feit last year, and he was arrested. Feit had also been accused of attacking a 20-year-old woman in a church sanctuary shortly before Garza's murder, but that trial ended in a hung jury and he pleaded no-contest to a reduced charge. Evidence linking him to Garza's murder was found within days of her body being found, but it wasn't until decades later that O'Brien as well as a former monk who was at a Trappist monastery with Feit in the 1960s said he had confessed. That former monk is a key witness in the case against Feit, who has pleaded not guilty. See Courthouse News for more. (Read more murder stories.)

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