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‘Totally Puzzled’ by Murder Charge, Ex-Priest Says

McALLEN, Texas (CN) - A retired priest charged with the 1960 murder of a South Texas beauty queen made his first courtroom appearance Wednesday in Arizona, where he said he will fight extradition to Texas, and that "this whole thing makes no sense."

"My instinct is telling me to fight extradition," John Feit, 83, told a Maricopa County judge at his initial appearance, the day after police announced the dramatic break in the 55-year-old murder mystery that has haunted residents of the Rio Grande Valley.

The former McAllen priest was arrested Tuesday afternoon at his Scottsdale apartment. He has long denied involvement in the April 1960 slaying of 25-year-old Irene Garza, who died after making what would be her last confession to Feit, on the day before Easter.

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

The former Miss All South Texas Sweetheart was found days later in an irrigation canal, fully dressed except for shoes and underwear. An autopsy determined she had been beaten and suffocated.

A Hidalgo County, Texas grand jury indictment unsealed Wednesday charges Feit with murder by asphyxiation.

Aided by a walker, Feit told a Maricopa County judge at his arraignment Wednesday that he planned to fight Texas' request to extradite him to Hidalgo County.

"This whole thing makes no sense to me because the crime in question took place in 1960," Feit said at his arraignment, which was recorded on video .

"In 2003 the same gentlemen were here and questioned me extensively and took DNA samples. That was 13 years ago. I'm totally puzzled by something coming up now after the fact," Feit said.

The judge told Feit there is no statute of limitations on murder, and set a $750,000 cash bond. Feit remains in the Maricopa County jail and is due back in a Phoenix courtroom on Feb. 24.

Texas has 90 days to complete the extradition request.

Feit became the prime suspect almost immediately after the murder shook up the South Texas border community more than half a century ago. A Hidalgo County grand jury in 2004 refused to indict him.

Afterward, Garza's surviving family members blasted then-District Attorney Rene Guerra, for failing to present enough evidence to indict Feit.

Guerra also came under fire in the early 2000s when he told a newspaper that the murder case would be solved "if you believe that pigs can fly."

Guerra told CNN in 2013 that his statement was unfortunate, because it came across as "insensitive and callous, which is not true."

A year after the CNN interview, Guerra, Texas' second-longest serving district attorney, was ousted from office after 32 years, when the cold case and his handling of the grand jury investigation, took center stage in a contentious election.

District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez told supporters he would re-examine the case.

Feit faces up to life in prison if convicted.

The church transferred Feit into a monastery shortly after the killing, according to old press reports. The Catholic Diocese of Brownsville told the McAllen Monitor on Wednesday that it "pray(s) for healing for the family and everyone involved."

"It is our hope that justice is served in this case that dates back to 1960," the diocese said in a statement.

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