EDINBURG — The former Hidalgo County district attorney who refused to take the Irene Garza case to trial said Thursday he wasn’t surprised the jury found John Feit, a former priest, guilty of the 1960 murder of the McAllen schoolteacher and beauty queen.
“I was not surprised,” Rene Guerra said shortly after the jury returned with a guilty verdict Thursday evening. “I found him guilty when the judge started admitting all sorts of hearsay evidence in the case — testimonials and all that kind of stuff.”
Guerra, the longest-serving district attorney in Hidalgo County history, alleged state District Judge Luis Singleterry admitted evidence that won’t hold up in an appeals court.
“I was surprised that the jury took that long,” he said about the jury’s deliberation. “I don’t know that it will hold up in an appeal, but only God knows what’s going to happen.”
Guerra has long been haunted by the case, which likely contributed to his election loss in 2014, when current DA Ricardo Rodriguez Jr. unseated him after promising to pursue the case.
Rodriguez, who has now successfully brought the case to trial, equated Guerra’s decision to not try the case with a lack of compassion at a news conference Friday.
“If my predecessor had an ounce of sympathy in all his 30 years as DA he would have seen that the evidence was compelling enough to convict,” Rodriguez said. “It was right under his nose all this time; he just didn’t care.”
Guerra said Thursday he did not regret his decision.
“No,” he said about possible regrets. “None whatsoever.”
The former DA does not believe Feit’s guilty sentence will affect his chances in the upcoming election. Both he and Rodriguez will once again face off as Guerra attempts to regain the position he held for over three decades.
“No I don’t think so,” he said about a potential backlash, “because I never saw him (Rodriguez) in the courtroom. … He didn’t try the case, so we still therefore don’t know his abilities as a trial lawyer.”
Guerra went on to question the timing of the trial, which took place just three months before the upcoming election.
“Feit spent two years in jail, and at his age, I don’t know why he wasn’t tried earlier,” he said. “Again, the timing is interesting.”
On Wednesday, Rodriguez launched his re-election campaign with a gathering at the Pharr Events Center. The event was filled with a who’s who of Hidalgo County, including politicians, business people and other high-profile figures.