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
57 Years Later, Ex-Priest on Trial for Beauty Queen's Murder
This undated photo provided by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office shows John Feit.   (Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office via AP)

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.

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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