As faithful readers of this blog know, for my sins, no doubt, I am an attorney. Over my 35 years at the bar I have been involved as defense counsel in more than my share of criminal cases. In regard to what follows please recall that I am going by accounts in the media and that is a very poor substitute for actually being involved in a case. However, what I have read, as a defense attorney, troubles me greatly, hence this post.
Back in 1960 Irene Garza had life by the tail. She was 25 years old, a beauty queen, a teacher of disadvantaged kids, and a faithful Catholic, a daily communicant. On Easter eve she decided to go to Confession. A then 27 year old priest John Feit, a visiting priest at Sacred Heart parish in McAllen, Texas, said he heard her Confession at the rectory. Two days later her body was found floating in an irrigation canal. She had been beaten, suffocated and raped while unconscious. Suspicion focused on Feit and he was brought in for questioning. He was never charged, allegedly due to influence by the Catholic Church. Feit denied that he had murdered her and has continued to deny that murder.
Feit left the priesthood in 1972, got married and had kids. Over the years there were efforts to reopen the investigation but nothing came of these efforts until 2016 when an indictment was returned by a grand jury. The trial was held this year and Feit was sentenced to life imprisonment. Go here to read about the background to the trial and the trial.
I rather suspect myself that Feit was probably guilty of the murder, but his trial, as describe in the media, seems unbelievable from the way in which it tromped on the rights of the accused, and the weakness of the evidence. Go here to read an account of the trial. Here are some of the major problem areas that I hope an appellate court addresses.
- The prosecution was allowed to bring into evidence at trial evidence of alleged pressure by the Catholic Church against prosecution of the priest back in 1960. How in the world did that have any legal relevance to the murder charge? Even if were relevant the prejudice clearly outweighed any probative value and the trial judge should not have allowed a second of it to come before the jury.
- A former monk was allowed to testify that Feit confessed the murder to him in 1963. It flabbergasts me that the judge allowed that in. Rule 505 Of the Texas Rules of Evidence should have clearly banned that testimony from admission. Go here to read Rule 505.
- A few weeks before the murder a woman was attacked in church, she fought off the man, at a parish where Feit was serving. Feit was charged after the woman picked him out of a lineup. After two trials with hung juries, Feit pleaded no contest to a charge of attacking the young woman, a greatly reduced charge, and was fined $500.00. Once again, this should not have been allowed into evidence. The probative value is outweighed by the prejudice to the defendant.
Without these items the evidence against Feit was insufficient and the jury should have returned a verdict of not guilty. I hope his conviction is overturned on appeal. The murder of Irene Garza cries out for justice, but the cause of justice was ill served by this dog’s breakfast of a case. The case had become a political football and allowed the current District Attorney to be elected against the incumbent in 2014. Go here to read an article from 2014 which gives a taste of the politics involved.
How do you convict an ex-priest of a 57 year old murder? With anti-Catholic bigotry I fear, and a judge who apparently badly needs a remedial course on Evidence.
Go here to read an article on the testimony allow in about the alleged history of the Catholic Church in shielding predator priests. This alone should be sufficient for reversal on appeal.
The judge hearing this case, who denied a defense motion for a change of venue although the case of Irene Garza was clearly a political football in the county, was once suspended from practice in the federal courts for two years. Go here to read about it.
The District Attorney was allowed by the Judge to suggest that the Catholic Church got rid of physical evidence linking Feit to the murder although there was zero evidence of this.
This case is an insult to all self respecting kangeroos.