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Judge to Decide on Venue Change in 1960 Murder Case

3 years 6 months 1 week ago Wednesday, May 24 2017 May 24, 2017 May 24, 2017 3:14 PM May 24, 2017 in News

EDINBURG – A former priest accused in a 1960 murder case was back in court on Wednesday. He’s asking the judge for a change of venue.

John Feit is accused in the murder of Irene Garza.

Feit’s attorney said there has been so much publicity about the case there is no way Feit can be tried in Hidalgo County and get a fair, unbiased trial.

“The pretrial publicity in this case was, in fact, prejudicial and prejudiced. But more importantly the pretrial publicity has reached that point where there is no reasonable likelihood we can reach a fair and impartial jury to sit on this case,” Defense attorney Oscar Rene Flores said.

But prosecutors from the district attorney’s office said that’s simply not true and his trial should happen in the community where the crime was committed. The state filed an 84-page objection to Feit’s motions to move his trial out of the Rio Grande Valley. 

“The citizens of Hidalgo County wrote laws that said murder is wrong, and that when you commit murder and it’s proven, you should be punished,” Hidalgo County Chief Assistance Criminal District Attorney Michael Garza said. 

Flores called three witnesses to the stand.

Two regular citizens from Hidalgo County who said they have heard so much about the murder of Irene Garza that they don’t believe they would be impartial jurors.

But upon cross examination from prosecutor Garza, both witnesses admitted that if ordered by a judge, they could be impartial when presented with evidence in the case.

Then defense expert witness Dr. Bryan Edelman told the court about the research he’s done in Hidalgo County, surveying people and talking to 329 people by phone to get answers about pretrial publicity.

Edelman believes coverage of the Irene Garza murder has been so pervasive, there is no way Feit could receive a fair trial.

“People who regularly follow the news are more likely to know details that are widely reported and then knowing a lot of those details, that constellation of case knowledge, has a direct impact on the presumption of guilt of the defendant in this case,” he said. 

Garza responded by saying he found it insulting that Edelman would testify to that.

According to Garza, “of the roughly 432,000 people who are eligible jurors in Hidalgo County to suggest that 12 impartial jurors can’t be found is ridiculous.”

“It’s been 56 years removed since this young lady was murdered. Fifty-six years have passed and now somebody walks into a courtroom and says Hidalgo County jurors can’t be fair, can’t be impartial. That they have such a pervasive prejudice against the defendant he can’t reach a fair trial,” he said. 

In the state’s objection to a change of venue, the DA’s office states, “the United States Supreme Court has astutely held: jurors do not have to be totally ignorant of the facts and issues of a particular case to be competent jurors.”

The decision is in the hands of Judge Luis Singleterry. He can either deny or approve the change of venue request.

The decision is expected sometime next week.  But pending the outcome of that ruling, the judge has set a trial date of Sept. 11. 

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