EDINBURG, Texas (CN) – The retired Catholic priest charged with killing a South Texas beauty queen half a century ago was extradited from Arizona to Texas on Wednesday, a month after his arrest revived the 55-year-old murder mystery.
Maricopa County sheriff’s officers arrested John Feit, 83, at his Scottsdale apartment on Feb. 9, in the April 16, 1960 murder of Irene Garza, a 25 year-old elementary schoolteacher.
Feit was a 27-year-old priest when Garza’s half-clothed body was found dumped in an irrigation canal after confessing to him, in his role of priest at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen.
He dropped his extradition battle on Feb. 24 and landed back in South Texas Wednesday evening, where he was booked into Hidalgo County Jail.
“We are one step closer in seeking justice,” Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez said in Edinburg, the county seat.
Rodriguez said that “new facts and evidence” were uncovered during an investigation, but declined to go into detail.
Feit became the prime suspect almost immediately after Garza’s slaying stunned the community. An autopsy determined that she had been beaten, suffocated and raped while unconscious.
Feit has always denied involvement in the crime but acknowledged that a Kodak photographic slide viewer found near Garza’s body belonged to him.
More evidence came to light when a 2002 Texas Rangers examination resulted in two former priests testifying that Feit had confessed to the killing.
Still, a Hidalgo County grand jury in 2004 refused to indict Feit. Garza’s family was outraged, and blamed then-District Attorney Rene Guerra, saying he failed to present enough evidence.
The February indictment charges Feit with murder by asphyxiation.
Rodriguez, who promised during his election campaign in 2014 that he would re-examine the murder, said he is confident he has enough evidence for a jury to convict the former priest.
“I want to make one thing clear: This case is not about politics. This case is not about proving a point. The only motive in this case is to try to finally bring justice and closure to this cold case,” Rodriguez said at a Wednesday news conference.
Feit, who uses a walker and has appeared frail in courtroom appearances, was booked into the county jail after arriving in Edinburg via private jet just after 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Sheriff J.E. “Eddie” Guerra said Feit will undergo a medical evaluation because of his age and health and will be placed in the jail infirmary.
“Depending on his condition, we will, if we need to, bring in a medical doctor to evaluate him,” Guerra said. “But again, he will be treated like any other prisoner that comes into our county jail.”
McAllen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez said that since a 2002 review of the case, “We’ve always believed that there was probable cause there for John Feit to face charges in the death of Irene Garza.
“We still believe that to be the case,” he said.
An arraignment date in Hidalgo County has not yet been set.
Prosecutors have issued subpoenas to half a dozen churches across the nation seeking records related to Feit.
Timothy J. Eckstein, Feit’s Phoenix attorney, did not return a voicemail left at his office after hours Wednesday.
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