(KENS) - The former Catholic priest convicted of the 1960 murder of a South Texas beauty queen on Thursday, returned to court to learn of his punishment by a jury on Friday.
Life in prison is the price former priest John Feit will pay for the rape and murder of then-25-year-old McAllen teacher Irene Garza.
It’s a sentence that Garza’s longtime friend and high school sweetheart Arturo Torres had been waiting to hear for over 57 years.
“I’m really happy that the jury sentenced you for life, but you know what? That’s nowhere near what you did to Irene,” Torres told Feit during the victim impact statement phase of the trial.
The death of the one-time beauty queen remains too painful for Garza’s family.
“I remember my grandfather and how this man destroyed his faith in God and he never went to church again,” said Nicolas Cavazos, pointing to Feit in court.
After decades of legal battles and wishful prayers by family members, investigators, witnesses, and prosecutors, they can now close what was once a cold and unresolved case.
Garza, who’s body rests in a Mission, Texas cemetery, is remembered by her loved ones as a role model who broke racial barriers and led a devout religious life.
Hers was a life cut short after she went to church for one last confession the night before Easter Sunday in 1960.
Then-father Feit would be the last person to see her alive before he asphyxiated her to death then dumped her body in a nearby canal.
The confession of a former monk, and a now-deceased priest, along with a new district attorney willing to bring their testimonies to a grand jury, helped extradite Feit from Arizona last year.
“All this time has always been about Irene Garza. That’s it, justice for Irene Garza, that’s all it’s been about, not about politics or campaigns,” said Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez, who campaigned with the promise to revisit the case.
Placing their faith in a 12-member jury, the family finally got their prayers answered Thursday night when Feit was found guilty of murder.
Those involved with bringing her case to a close believe the spirit of Irene Garza was always there to show them the way.
“She’s been our beacon of hope that gave us the strength to speak truth to power and to never give up,” said Garza’s cousin, Lynda De La Vina. “May she now rest in peace.”
Feit’s family was not present during the trial. They live in Arizona, a place where Feit will no longer be able to return.