Former priest convicted in murder of Texas schoolteacher dies in prison

John Feit, 87, died two years after his conviction in the 1960 murder of Irene Garza.

Sins of The Father

A former priest convicted in the 1960 murder of a Texas schoolteacher has died, an official confirms to "48 Hours."  John Feit, 87, was found unresponsive in his cell early morning Tuesday and pronounced dead at the hospital.

The preliminary cause of death is cardiac arrest. Feit was in the process of appealing his life sentence in the murder of 25-year-old Irene Garza. His death will not affect his conviction, prosecutors say.

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A young father John Feit, left. At right, the former priest at his trial for the 1960 murder of Irene Garza. On Dec. 7, 2017, at age 85, Feit was found guilty. Corbis/CBS News

"A jury found him guilty of murder and sentenced him to life in prison. We are happy to know that there is closure for Irene Garza's family," Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez Jr. told "48 Hours" in a statement. "I want to sincerely thank the family of Irene Garza for their cooperation, for them holding on as long as they have."

Noemi Sigler, a relative of Irene Garza told 48 Hours, "He now stands in front of the ultimate judge. He left this earth never showing remorse for killing Irene. God have mercy on his soul." 

Garza was last seen when she left for confession on Easter Sunday, nearly 60 years ago.

Her body was found in a canal five days later. Police say she was beaten, sexually assaulted and suffocated.

Investigators turned their attention to Father John Feit, then 27, after evidence, such as a photo slide viewer — and inconsistencies in his stories — made them suspicious.

He would first deny — then admit — to hearing Garza's last confession. Investigator grew even more suspicious after they learned a young woman had been attacked at a nearby church — three weeks before Garza was found dead.

That woman would later identify Feit as her attacker.

Feit pleaded no contest to aggravated assault in that case and was fined $500, but the investigation into Irene Garza's murder went cold. He would go on to leave the priesthood, get married, and raise three children.

Rumors that the church shielded Feit swirled for decades.

The case was reopened in 2002 when investigators asked the Texas Rangers' cold case unit to re-examine the murder. A former monk, Dale Tacheny, wrote to police that Fit had admitted to killing a young woman while at the monastery in 1963.

"I was told that he had killed a woman and then asked if we could see if he would fit in in the monastery and possibly become a monk," Tacheny told "48 Hours" correspondent Richard Schlesinger.

"A murderer become a monk? Did that seem odd to you," Schlesinger asked.

Tacheny responded, "To me, yes."

Dale Tacheny letter to police: "I can't breathe"

Another priest came forward with a similar admission.

But the district attorney at the time, Rene Guerra, didn't find the new witnesses credible.

In 2014, Schlesinger confronted John Feit outside his home in Arizona about the allegations surrounding him. The former priest denied killing Irene Garza.

Shortly after "The Last Confession" — "48 Hours"' first broadcast on the case — aired in 2014, a new district attorney was elected who promised to look into the case. In 2016, Feit was arrested in Scottsdale, Arizona, and charged with murder.

"There may be people who don't understand why an old man is being prosecuted," says prosecutor Mike Garza. "But make no mistake. This is an evil man. He was a predator. He's a wolf in priest's clothing -- looking to attack."

Nearly 60 years after the murder, the trial of the former priest would begin and end in 2017 — with Tacheny as the star witness for the prosecutors. 

Tacheny died last month at 90 years old. It was his testimony that helped convict Feit.

He told Schlesinger in 2017 he felt relieved when he took the stand, saying, "This was my chance to tell what I knew, what I remembered."

Feit, the former cleric, would become a convict and sentenced to life in prison.