TX--Victims prod DA to charge priest in unsolved murder
For immediate release: Tuesday, November 10, 2015
Fifty-five year old murder case still stalled
Texas prosecutor pledged in his campaign to reopen the file
But District Attorney has not issued an update in six months
A victim’s group is writing him, begging for “action & transparency”
“File charges now, while the suspect and witnesses are still alive,” says SNAP
Six months ago, a high profile, unsolved, decades-old murder investigation in McAllen was re-opened by a new district attorney. Now, a victims group is writing the prosecutor and urging him to disclose the status of the case and file charges against the most widely known suspect.
A year and a half has passed since Ricardo Rodriguez won an election to become the prosecutor of Hidalgo County. During the campaign, he repeatedly pledged to re-examine the murder of Irene Garza, a 25 year old teacher.
“Irene’s family deserves justice. The public deserves protection. And citizens deserve information,” said David Clohessy, director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “Rodriguez should act now while the main suspect and key witnesses are still alive. At a bare minimum, he should issue a public update and a plea to others with information to come forward immediately.”
Garza disappeared on April 16, 1960, after telling her mother she was going to confession at McAllen’s Sacred Heart Church. Four days later her body was pulled from an irrigation canal.
A priest at the church, Father John Feit, was the prime suspect in Garza’s death. The cleric admitted that he had heard Garza’s confession that evening, and other evidence also linked him to the crime. However, Feit, who now lives in Arizona, was never prosecuted for the murder.
Decades later, Rodriguez challenged long time district attorney Rene Guerra in his run for a ninth term after 32 years in the office. Rodriguez, a former judge, specifically referenced Guerra’s failure to prosecute the old murder case in his campaign.
Rodriguez was ultimately elected district attorney. After he took office, he reopened the long cold case.
However, almost six months later, there has been no update on its status. In response, members of SNAP have written to Rodriguez expressing their concerns.
The complete text of SNAP’s letter, sent earlier today by FAX, is pasted below.
“While we are grateful for Rodriguez’ efforts so far, we are concerned by the absence of any new information,” said Clohessy. “It's been more than thirteen years since two priests came forward to say that they heard Father Feit's admit guilt. One of them has since died. Time is of the essence in this case.”
Barbara Dorris, also with SNAP, added, “We know that the grand jury process is secret, but we hope that Mr. Rodriguez will give us some sort of an update. If he doesn’t think that there is enough evidence to indict Father Feit, we encourage him to use his position to reach out again, using his ‘bully pulpit,’ and beg anyone who may have information to come forward before it’s too late.”
Clohessy concluded, “In the past, we saw time and again that prosecutors were reluctant to take on cases involving Catholic priests, fearing the Church’s supposed power. Fortunately, the tide seems to have turned in recent years, and we hope that it will also be true in this case.”
Feit was indicted in 1960 for “assault with intent to rape” in the case of a young woman who was assaulted inside a church in nearby town two weeks before Garza’s disappearance. A jury deadlocked nine to three in favor of conviction on those charges. The priest later pleaded guilty to a reduced charge.
Rodriguez is not the first official to reopen the Garza file. Texas Rangers renewed the investigation in 2002, the same year the clergy sexual abuse scandal erupted in Boston. They uncovered two priests who would have testified that Feit admitted the crime to them. Despite this new evidence, the prosecutor at that time, Rene Guerra, still refused to take the case to the grand jury.
After local media took up the cause and put pressure on Guerra, he finally presented a case to the grand jury in 2004. However, the two priests who had heard Feit’s admission of guilt were never called to testify, nor was Feit subpoenaed to appear, so it was no surprise that an indictment was not returned at that time.
One of the two priests who heard Feit’s admission died in 2005.
November 10, 2015
Ricardo Rodriguez, District Attorney
Hidalgo County Courthouse
100 N Closner Blvd, # 303
Edinburg, TX 78539
Re: Justice for Irene Garza
Dear Mr. Rodriguez:
We are members of a victims’ group called SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. We are writing to you today because we are concerned that there has been no update on the status of the Irene Garza case. We were grateful when you announced that you were again investigating the murder, and we are begging you to continue to be transparent and to take action now.
You were elected district attorney for Hidalgo County more than eighteen months ago. The investigation into Garza’s case was reopened at least six months ago. It has been more than thirteen years since two priests said Father John Feit admitted the crime to them. And, as you know, one of those priests has since died.
It's time to act. If the case has been, or will be, sent to the grand jury, please let the public know. If you have determined that there is not enough evidence for an indictment, again, please let us know.
In the latter case, we also urge you to use every resource at your disposal to reach out again and beg anyone who may have information to come forward before it is too late.
You ran for district attorney promising justice for Garza. We hope you will honor your campaign promise while the remaining witnesses, and the suspect, are still alive.
Barbara Dorris, Outreach Director of SNAP (bdorris@SNAPnetwork.org, 314-503-0003)
50 State AG Call for Grand Jury
Any investigation must be:
- independent of and separate from the church
- must have subpoena powers and ability to compel testimony under oath
Anything short of these criteria is a sham and whitewash.
In addition, write letters to the editor, make phone calls to politicians as they can apply pressure to keep them responsive to our demand. We need to make efforts to ensure that they follow up on what the state is doing to investigate these crimes.
Note to Letter Writers
Use your own words and style of writing. Cut and paste from the templates as you wish. Include your experiences, whether as a survivor or as a member of the community. And relate your letter to the state you were abused in or state now living in.