A Texas judge denied a motion for a mistrial Wednesday from lawyers for the former priest accused of murdering a beauty queen in 1960, multiple outlets report.
John Feit, 84, of Scottsdale, Arizona, is charged with first-degree murder in the beating, rape and suffocation of 25-year-old Irene Garza more than 57 years ago in one of the most highly publicized and sensational cases in Texas history.
Feit, who was a 27-year-old visiting priest at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen, Texas, at the time of the killing, is accused of beating Garza, sexually assaulting her and suffocating her after allegedly putting her in a cellophane bag and leaving her in a bathtub in the basement of the rectory while he went to the church, prosecutors allege.
When he returned, they say, Garza was dead.
Garza’s last words to her alleged killer, according to a prosecution witness, were “I cannot breathe,” which she uttered as she gasped for air while he allegedly exited the basement where she later died, the San Antonio Express-News reports.
On Tuesday, defense attorneys filed a motion seeking a mistrial because a prosecution witness had said the word “polygraph” after both sides had agreed that the polygraph tests given to Feit would not be mentioned in the trial, local TV station KRGV reports.
Any mention of polygraph tests Feit underwent after Garza’s murder would hinder Feit’s right to a fair trial, his attorneys argued, The Monitor of McAllen reports.
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On Wednesday, the judge ordered that part of the testimony to be removed from the record and asked jurors to return to the courtroom to continue the trial, according to KRGV.
Priest Heard Victim’s Confession
Garza was a devout Catholic who was found dead in an irrigation canal in 1960 — five days after Feit heard her Easter-weekend confession.
Authorities at the time questioned Feit after they found items belonging to the church, including a candelabra, near her body. They also found a Kodak slide photo viewer that authorities said belonged to him.
New evidence in the decades-old cold case led authorities to arrest Feit in Feb. 2016 in Scottsdale, where he was living, Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez told PEOPLE at the time.
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In Feb. 2016, Feit was indicted in the death of the second-grade teacher and former homecoming queen who was named Miss All-South Texas Sweetheart in 1958. The following month, he pleaded not guilty to murder, maintaining that he had nothing to do with her death.
More than a year after his arrest, his trial began on Nov. 30 in Edinburg, Texas. In his opening arguments, prosecutor Michael Garza alleged to the jurors that Feit committed the murder “with malice and forethought,” The Monitor reports.
The prosecutor also told jurors that Feit attacked a woman in a nearby church two weeks before Garza disappeared, the San Antonio Express-News reports. He was charged with assault and attempted rape, but the case ended in a mistrial. He later pleaded no contest to aggravated assault and was fined $500.
Defense attorney O. Rene Flores argued that there isn’t enough evidence to convict his client, the Express-News reports.
‘I Cannot Breathe, I Cannot Breathe’
On Monday, jurors also heard testimony from former monk Dale Tacheny, 88, who said that in 1963, Feit told him about the killing when he was sent to Tacheny’s monastery, the Express-News reports.
“He put the young lady in a bathtub,” he testified, according to the Express. “As he was leaving, the young lady said ‘I cannot breathe, I cannot breathe.’ Then he left.”
On Tuesday, another prosecution witness testified that the Hidalgo County sheriff told Catholic church officials in 1960 to hire a private investigator to thwart the investigation into Feit, so as to avoid a scandal that threatened to harm President John F. Kennedy’s chance at re-election, The Monitor reports.
PEOPLE’s calls seeking comment from prosecutors and defense attorneys were not immediately returned.