Altar Ego: The Ex-Priest and the Death of a Beauty Queen

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"The next thing I know, he had turned very quick, come to my rear and grabbed me around the head.

"He placed a small cloth over my mouth, and I fell backward to the floor. I began to scream now as when I fell, the rag fell free from my mouth. Then while I was on the floor, he tried to cover my mouth with his hands to stop me from screaming and when he did this, one of his fingers went into my mouth and I bit it very hard. I know that I bit it very hard because I could taste blood in my mouth.

"When I bit him, he threw me toward the south side door of the church and ran out the north side door."

Guerra ran to the rectory and rang the doorbell. Father Charles Moran, who was inside taking a shower, yelled for her "to wait a minute."

As she was ringing the bell, a young woman came up to her and asked what had happened. The woman had heard her scream. Guerra told her she had been attacked in the church. The woman then walked away.

Guerra, afraid that the man might still be lurking, decided to head quickly back to her home.

She noticed the blue-and-white car was gone.

The woman who asked her what had happened was Maria Cristina Tijerina, who was walking past the church on her way to work at 6:20 p.m.

"As I passed the front door [of the church], I heard some screams coming from inside the church," she said. "I became interested and started trying to see what was happening. I kept walking while I was looking because I was late for work.

"As I passed the side door of this church, a young man about 29 or 30 years old came out walking very fast like he was in a hurry. When I saw the man, I didn't hear any more screams. He was dressed in black pants and had a white T-shirt on. In his hands, he was holding a towel about the size of a face towel."

Tijerina saw the man enter the door to the church sacristy. She saw Guerra leave the church and head toward the rectory. Tijerina said she then went to ask Guerra what had happened.

In early May, Guerra was taken to the McAllen police station by a deputy sheriff. Investigators wanted her to see the lead suspect in the Irene Garza case.

"I looked at this man, and I [said] that I thought he was the one [who had attacked] me. Later that night, I told my mother this was the man who attacked me."

Guerra wrote in a statement two weeks later, "I saw this same man not long after in the library at Pan-American College, but I saw him dressed as a priest, and I was surprised to see him dressed as a priest, as this was the same man I had seen at the Police Station in McAllen. The minute I saw him I felt afraid of him.

"I want to state that this same Priest that I have seen [at the] College and that I saw at the Police Station in McAllen is the same man who attacked me in church in Edinburg. I am positive he is the same man."

The man she identified was Father John Feit.

The interning priest from San Antonio admitted he had visited Father Charles Moran at Sacred Heart Church the afternoon Guerra was attacked. Feit also admitted that he went into the church to pray, but said he exited the building by 5:15 p.m. to talk to Father Moran about "the personal problems of a boy from Edinburg." He said he then returned to San Juan in his blue-and-white 1956 Ford Tudor in time to "ring the 5:30 bell for Adoration."

Moran, however, remembered nothing of a conversation with Feit about a boy's troubles. He just remembered Feit coming "for no good reason I know of." Moran remembered Feit was dressed in black pants and a light-tan shirt with his usual horn-rimmed glasses.

Other witnesses said Feit didn't ring the 5:30 bell in San Juan.

Feit then gave a second police statement in which he tried to explain the contradictions.

"I believe I hurt my cause by trying to be too specific and detailed about my doings on that afternoon of March 23. Frankly, it was just another routine day, and it is very hard to recall my exact whereabouts, actions or what have you at any exact time."

Regarding the bell-ringing: "I left the rectory and drove to San Juan, arriving in time to ring the bell, for supper or chapel service? I don't know for sure."

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Robert Nelson