A former Texas priest on Thursday was convicted of the 1960 murder of a second-grade teacher and was sentenced to life in prison on Friday. John Feit, 85, was arrested in February 2016 for a murder that had taken decades for authorities to prosecute. 

Feit was a visiting priest in McAllen, Texas, when he killed Irene Garza, a former beauty queen, who was only 25 at the time. She was strangled and her body was found raped and beaten in an irrigation ditch. He reportedly killed her when she had gone to confession at Sacred Heart Catholic Church during Holy Week. 

Feit had long been considered a suspect, but prosecutors failed to bring a case against him. During the trial, prosecutors presented evidence that alleged elected officials and the Catholic Church cut a deal to hinder the investigation to protect the church's image. 

A reason Feit may have avoided prosecution was the presidential election, as John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, was campaigning for the White House. A letter between a priest and a Church official entered into evidence stated that a murder case against a priest “could make this a juicy scandal for the opposition to Kennedy,” according to Reuters.

Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez brought the case against Feit, who left the church in 1972. Rodriguez succeeded where past district attorneys had failed. Rodriguez’s predecessor, Rene Guerra, brought a case against Feit in 2004 but failed to get an indictment. Guerra did not present into evidence the two priests who said Feit had confessed the murder to them.

One of those priests, Dale Tacheny, testified against Feit. Tacheny contacted police in 2002 to say that Feit had confessed the murder to him years ago and never came forward out of religious obligation.

“So I asked Father Feit, why are you here and not in prison?” Tacheny said in court, according to KRGV, an ABC affiliate in Weslaco, Texas. “He said there were three things. Number one, the church helped me, primarily through a priest. Law enforcement helped him. Finally, the seal of confession helped him.”