I have an eighty-four year-old friend who has grieved the murder of his childhood friend for fifty-seven years. Until Friday, December 8, 2017, justice was on hold. A jury in Hidalgo County, Texas found her murderer guilty and sentenced him to fifty-seven years in prison. The man is now a frail 85 year-old man, so it is a life sentence. This is appropriate because, he lived his life after taking hers in a heinous way.
Irene Garza was a twenty-five year-old school teacher who had challenged the racial barriers in the South Texas community in the late 1950’s and won the beauty contest, earning her the title “beauty queen.” According to my friend, she was so much more than that. He says that her personality was the most beautiful thing about her. I can see the pain he feels whenever he speaks of her. He says he spoke to her on the phone while he was in town a few days before her murder. He had to return a few days later for her funeral.
The man who killed her was a Catholic priest. She went to the church to go to confession on April 16,1960 and was never seen alive again. Her badly beaten body was found a few days later in an irrigation ditch. The autopsy showed she had been raped and smothered as well as beaten. The murderer had scratches on his face and his slide viewer was found by her body. He was always a “person of interest” in the case. In spite of his having been fined for a similar assault that the woman survived, officials decided to do nothing at the time.
Now, as Prosecutor Michael Garza (no relation to the deceased) said, “I can say this: Pigs are flying, and Irene is resting.” Justice had her day before it was too late for the man responsible to see it. May the cold arms of Justice give him no comfort. May Irene’s family and friends find what comfort there is in knowing that, however late, Justice was served.