Testimony starts in ex-priest's trial for 1960 Texas killing

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John Feit and Irene Garza. (Source: CBS News and Maricopa County Sheriff's Office) John Feit and Irene Garza. (Source: CBS News and Maricopa County Sheriff's Office)
John Feit's booking photo (Source: Maricopa County Sheriff's Office) John Feit's booking photo (Source: Maricopa County Sheriff's Office)
Irene Garza was last seen going to confession. (Source: Lynda de la Viña via CBS News) Irene Garza was last seen going to confession. (Source: Lynda de la Viña via CBS News)
Feit, a 27-year-old priest in 1960, was the last person to see Garza alive. (Source: CBS News) Feit, a 27-year-old priest in 1960, was the last person to see Garza alive. (Source: CBS News)
EDINBURG, Texas (AP) -

A prosecutor told a jury that he would prove an 85-year-old former Catholic priest murdered a South Texas teacher and ex-beauty queen 57 years ago.

The assertion came as the Hidalgo County jury heard opening statements and testimony Thursday in the trial of John Feit in Edinburg, Texas. He is accused of the April 1960 beating and suffocation of Irene Garza, 25, whose body was found five days after she went to a McAllen church for confession.

[RELATED: Priest suspected in 1960 murder of Texas beauty queen arrested in Scottsdale]

Prosecutor Michael Garza, who is not related to the victim, told jurors that Feit killed the woman "with malice and forethought." Garza said that a month before the victim went missing, a female college student reported that a man attacked her from behind in church and tried to suffocate her. Feit would later plead no contest to a charge related to that incident.

"Is what you're trying to convince your heart of what your mind knows is true? You use that common sense in your heart, and I ask each of you to open the eyes of your heart and find John Feit guilty of murder," Garza said.

Defense attorney O. Rene Flores told jurors that prosecutors have insufficient evidence to convict Feit, who was living in Arizona at the time of his arrest last year.

[RELATED: Ex-priest accused in woman's 1960 death extradited from Phoenix to Texas]

"I disagree with Mr. Garza. The finding of facts that you make may hurt your heart, and I too ask you to bring your common sense to the courtroom. Do not let your heart make those findings," Flores said.

The first witness called to testify was former television reporter Darrell Davis.

[RELATED: Man waives extradition in 1960 death of Texas beauty queen]

Davis, now 77 and a lawyer, was 20 years old when he covered the case as a reporter in 1960. He testified that the district attorney at the time knew Feit killed Irene Garza and that the church knew it, but promised to move him to a monastery if he was not prosecuted.

Also, two men testified that they had found Irene Garza's purse. One said he found it on the night she disappeared, and the other claimed he discovered it on a different day.

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