A former Roman Catholic priest took the confession of a Texas beauty queen, then lured her to a church rectory and killed her, prosecutors said on Thursday to start a trial for a 1960 murder that has been one of state’s most notorious cold cases.
In opening statements at a state court in the border county of Hidalgo, prosecutors said John Feit, 84, charged with the murder 57 years ago of Irene Garza, then 25, engaged in “betrayal, murder and cover-up,” local media reports from the courtroom said.
Feit, who used a walker when he entered court, has denied the charges and his lawyers urged the jury to believe facts about the case and not stories.
“There wasn’t enough evidence then, and there isn’t enough evidence now,” defense attorney O. Rene Flores was quoted as saying by the McAllen Monitor newspaper.
Garza, a former Miss South Texas and second-grade school teacher, was a devout Catholic who often went to confession, prosecutors told the court, the reports said.
After the April 1960 attack, Feit returned to the church and continued to hear confessions, prosecutors said.
Garza’s body was found five days later in a nearby canal. An autopsy showed that she had been raped while comatose and died of suffocation, according to the Texas Rangers, a statewide police agency.
Robert Ammons, a prominent trial lawyer who is not involved in this case, said prosecutors would face major challenges.
“Many of the relevant witnesses who would have information are either dead or their memories have faded with time, and that will allow the defense to challenge their testimony,” he said.
Feit had initially been considered by authorities a suspect but was not indicted. He had been implicated in the assault of another woman a few weeks before Garza’s disappearance, but pleaded no contest and served no jail time.
Shortly after Garza’s body was found, Feit was ordered by his church superiors to leave the South Texas city of McAllen, the Dallas Morning News reported.
Feit later left the priesthood, moved to Arizona and started a family.
Texas Rangers investigating cold cases reported in 2002 a local priest had told them, shortly after Garza’s body was found, that he had seen scratches on the hands of Feit, who was a visiting priest at the time.
Father Joseph O’Brien, also told investigators Feit had confessed to the murder, police said. Feit has denied that.
(Additional reporting by Jim Forsyth in San Antonio; Editing by Bernadette Baum)
New study warns of ‘killer heat’ set to overtake the US
Without urgent international action to address runaway global heating, there will be almost no communities or regions in the contiguous United States unaffected as the number of lethally hot days each year—including those characterized as "off-the-charts" hot—doubles by mid-century and quadruples by the year 2100.
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Christine Lagarde resigns as head of IMF
International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde submitted her resignation from the global crisis lender on Tuesday, citing more clarity about her nomination to lead the European Central Bank as European legislators approved a new top bureaucrat.
Lagarde said in a statement her resignation was effective Sept. 12, firing the starting gun for the IMF’s search for her successor, which is likely to be another European.
“With greater clarity now on the process for my nomination as ECB President and the time it will take, I have made this decision in the best interest of the Fund,” Lagarde said in a statement.
Wary US swimmers share waves with deadly sharks off Cape Cod
At the entrance to Newcomb Hollow Beach, at the tip of the Cape Cod peninsula, the picture of a great white shark reminds swimmers that the US shores of the Atlantic must be shared with the ocean's most feared predator.
The great whites swim to this region in the northeastern United States to hunt for one of their preferred foods -- seals.
Since the Marine Mammal Protection Act was passed in 1972 the number of seals in Cape Cod has grown to more than 50,000.
In 2005 the great whites were declared a protected species in the state of Massachusetts -- where Cape Cod is located -- and have since become regular visitors to the region.