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Sunday, June 16, 2024 | Back issues
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Retired Priest Arrested|in Cold-Case Killing

McALLEN, Texas (CN) - A retired priest who has spent more than five decades denying he killed a 25-year-old South Texas beauty queen was arrested Tuesday in Arizona on a murder indictment out of Texas.

Maricopa County sheriff's officers arrested John Feit, 83, at his Scottsdale apartment just before 4 p.m. for the April 1960 death of Irene Garza.

A Hidalgo County, Texas, grand jury indicted Feit in connection with Garza's murder, District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez confirmed. Feit is being held at a Maricopa County jail on a $750,000 cash bond. A fugitive hearing is scheduled for Feb. 24 in Phoenix, according to jail records.

Feit, a former priest with Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen, has long been dogged by rumors that he killed Garza on the day before Easter 1960 after the 25-year-old schoolteacher went to church for what would be her last confession.

Feit was a 27-year-old priest at the time and the last person to see Garza alive.

The McAllen schoolteacher was found days later in an irrigation canal, fully dressed except for shoes and underwear. An autopsy determined she had been beaten and suffocated.

Feit has been the prime suspect in Garza's slaying but no one has ever been charged.

The church moved Feit into a monastery, according to old press reports on the case.

The cold case began to heat up in the early 2000s when former Hidalgo County District Attorney Rene Guerra attempted to pursue charges.

A Rio Grande Valley grand jury's refusal to indict Feit in 2004 sparked a firestorm of criticism, led largely by Garza's family.

The case was propelled to the national spotlight when a series of news outlets reported on the story, which became a lightning rod in the 2014 race for district attorney. The cold case took center stage in that election, with Garza's family blaming Guerra for failing to present enough evidence to indict Feit.

Rodriguez ousted the 32-year incumbent and told supporters he would re-examine the case.

Feit faces extradition to Texas. It is still unknown if he will fight the transfer.

Feit left the priesthood under a cloud in 1971 and has lived in Arizona ever since. He faced trial for a sex-related case in the 1960s but it hung a Texas jury. He ended up pleading no contest to a lesser charge and paid a $500 fine.

Feit is married with children and grandchildren. He has always denied killing Garza.

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