EDINBURG — “Justice was served,” Irene Garza’s family friend asserted Thursday evening after she heard the words she’d been waiting decades to hear.
Former priest John Feit, 85, was found guilty of murdering Garza on Easter weekend in 1960.
“Irene finally got her day in court,” an emotional Noemi Sigler said of her family friend. “And that’s all we ever wanted. Bless her heart. Now she can rest. Her story has been told and nobody can ever deny it any more.”
Sigler was only a child when the 25-year-old schoolteacher never returned home from church the night of April 16, 1960, and the Garza family undertook a frantic search for her. As an adult, Sigler — as well as Lynda de la Viña, a relative of Garza’s — took it upon herself to ensure the case did not remain cold.
Both women spent decades of their lives investigating the case and pressuring former Hidalgo County District Attorney Rene Guerra to indict Feit and bring the case before a jury.
“After 57 years, we’ve found justice for Irene and we’ve spoken truth to the power of the Catholic Church and to the former political leaders in Hidalgo County,” de la Viña said after the verdict was handed down.
When asked if she was talking about Guerra, de la Viña replied, “Especially.”
Guerra famously told the Garza family that there was not enough evidence and that the case would be solved “if you believe pigs can fly.”
“For today, pigs are flying — a little bit of snow — but pigs are flying,” de la Viña said, juxtaposing Guerra’s previous remarks with snow being in Friday’s forecast, a rare occasion in the region. “(Guerra) will never stick his finger in my face and tell me this is a case about old people and that people don’t care, and tell me that when pigs fly we will be able to move on and get this conviction.”
She also referred to the victim as the family’s “beacon of hope” whose memory provided strength to endure and “never give up.”
During Friday’s sentencing phase, Garza’s nephew, Nick Cavazos, will address Feit directly when he gives the victim impact statement. His mother was Garza’s only sister, and de la Viña said Josie Garza, who now lives in California, has experienced “a real hard time.”
Also in the courtroom Thursday night was Sylvia Acevedo Stern, Garza’s godsister. Stern was one of the first witnesses to take the stand when the trial began Nov. 30 and testified about the tense days following Garza’s disappearance.
“I’m feeling very, very happy — the emotion is still so full,” Stern said, describing feeling “joyful and excited and … wondrous and feeling like there is a God and our prayers all got answered.”
“You just never know what the jury is going to come up with,” she added, noting that she hoped to have the opportunity to thank them.