HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) — A former Texas priest who was sentenced to life in prison for the 1960 killing of a schoolteacher who came to him for confession has died, prison officials said.
John Bernard Feit, 87, died Thursday afternoon at Huntsville Hospital, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said. The agency said in a statement that the preliminary cause of death was cardiac arrest, The Monitor reported.
In 2017, a jury in south Texas convicted the then-85-year-old man of killing 25-year-old Irene Garza in 1960. Prosecutors said Garza went to Feit for confession at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen, Texas. Her bludgeoned body was found days later, and an autopsy revealed she had been raped while unconscious, and beaten and suffocated.
Feit, then a priest at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, came under suspicion in the investigation early on. He told police that he heard Garza’s confession in the church rectory rather than in the confessional, but denied he had killed her.
By the late 1960s Feit had become one of the leaders at the Servants of the Paraclete, a Roman Catholic religious order that operated a retreat in Jemez Springs, New Mexico, for troubled priests. He acted as a supervisor with the responsibility of clearing priests for parish assignments. Among the men Feit helped keep in ministry was child molester James Porter, who assaulted more than 100 victims before he was defrocked and sent to prison.
Feit left the priesthood in 1972, married and went on to work at the Catholic charity St. Vincent de Paul in Phoenix, training and recruiting volunteers and helping oversee the charity’s network of food pantries.
Feit left the priesthood in 1972, and he was arrested in 2016.