Ex-priest accused in woman’s 1960 death extradited to Texas

HOUSTON (AP) — An 83-year-old former priest accused of killing a Texas teacher and ex-beauty queen in 1960 is set to be extradited from Arizona to Texas on Wednesday, officials said.

John Feit was scheduled to be flown from Phoenix to South Texas, where he will be booked into the Hidalgo County Jail in Edinburg.

The frail-looking Feit, who uses a walker, has been jailed in Arizona, where he’s lived for years, following his Feb. 9 arrest in the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale. He was indicted in Hidalgo County for the killing 56 years ago of Irene Garza, a 25-year-old school teacher.

Feit was to be escorted to Texas by officers with McAllen police and the Texas Department of Public Safety Ranger Service after waiving his right to extradition during a Feb. 24 court hearing.

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Authorities in Hidalgo County were scheduled to discuss the extradition at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

Authorities allege the then-27-year-old Feit killed Garza on April 16, 1960, after hearing her confession at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen, where he was a priest.

Her body was found days later. An autopsy determined Garza, who was named Miss All South Texas Sweetheart 1958, had been raped while unconscious and was beaten and suffocated.

Feit came under suspicion early on, telling police that he heard Garza’s confession — in the church rectory, not in the confessional — but denying he killed her.

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Also, Feit had been accused of attacking another young woman in a church in a nearby town just weeks before Garza’s death. He eventually pleaded no contest and was fined $500.

Feit’s arrest last month followed other investigations over the years, including a grand jury probe in 2004 that concluded there was insufficient evidence to charge him.

Among the evidence that pointed to Feit as a suspect over the years was his portable photographic slide viewer, which was found near Garza’s body. Two fellow priests told authorities Feit confessed to them and one of them said he saw scratches on Feit soon after Garza’s disappearance.

Authorities have declined to comment on what evidence was presented to grand jurors to indict Feit. But Rene Guerra, the former longtime Hidalgo County district attorney who had previously investigated the murder but never brought charges, has said there was no DNA evidence in the case.

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Feit spent time at a treatment center in New Mexico for troubled priests and after that became a supervisor and had a part in clearing priests for assignments to parishes.

Feit left the priesthood to marry. He joined the administrative office of the St. Vincent de Paul nonprofit agency in Phoenix in 1983 and retired in 2004.

Garza’s family members and friends had long pushed authorities to reopen the case, and it became an issue in the 2014 district attorney’s race in Hidalgo County. Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez, who beat the longtime incumbent, had promised he would re-examine the case if elected.