A former priest accused of killing a Texas beauty queen and schoolteacher in 1960 was convicted of murder on Thursday.
John Feit, 85, was stone-faced as jurors announced that they had found him guilty of the murder of 25-year-old Irene Garza, the Associated Press reports. The jury had deliberated for six hours before reaching a verdict.
Garza was last seen going to Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen, Texas for confession. Her bludgeoned body was found on April 16, 1960, days after she had gone missing. An autopsy report revealed that Garza had been beaten and raped. Her cause of death was suffocation.
Feit, who was 28 at the time, came under suspicion after it was revealed that he had taken Garza’s confession in the church rectory rather than in the confessional. He denied killing her, although evidence was presented during the trial that suggested church and elected officials may have suspected Feit in the murder. Feit went on to spend time in a treatment center for troubled priests before becoming a supervisor. He left the priesthood in 1972.
During the trial, evidence further connected Feit to Garza’s murder. The ex-priest’s portable photographic slide viewer had been found near the beauty queen’s body, and it was reported that after Garza’s disappearance, there were scratches on Feit. Two of Feit’s fellow priests also allegedly told authorities that Feit had confessed to them. Just weeks before Garza’s murder, Feit had been accused of attacking another woman in a church.
The 85-year-old could be sentenced to up to 99 years or life imprisonment.