Sides File Motions in O'Brien's Case
Allowances Sought for Hit-Run Trial

By Carol Sowers
The Arizona Republic [Phoenix AZ]
November 21, 2003

A defense attorney for retired Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien wants jurors in the upcoming trial to know the blood-alcohol level of the pedestrian struck and killed June 14 by a hit-and-run driver.

The prosecution wants jurors to hear about a previous hit-and-run accident involving a parked car.

O'Brien, 67, is charged with leaving the scene of a fatal accident in the case, which is expected to go to trial Jan. 12.

A motion filed by Tom Henze about the victim's blood-alcohol level is one in a flurry filed in recent days. Wednesday was a deadline for responses in the motions filed by both the prosecution and the defense.

Henze asked that Judge Stephen Gerst of Maricopa County Superior Court admit evidence showing that Jim L. Reed, 47, the victim, had a blood-alcohol content of 0.21 percent, more than twice the legal limit for drivers, when he was hit near Glendale and 19th avenues in Phoenix.

Reed wandered into traffic lanes after dark and "was not in a place where he was expected to be," Henze wrote, adding: "Our defense is that the defendant didn't see Mr. Reed."

But Mitchell Rand, a deputy Maricopa County attorney, said in his response that evidence of Reed's blood-alcohol content is irrelevant and would put the "victim in a bad light."

In another motion filed Wednesday, Rand asked Gerst to rule on evidence that O'Brien hit a parked car on Oct. 20, 2002, observed the damage and walked away without filing a report.

The incident, Rand wrote, may show that O'Brien's conduct in June was "not a simple mistake or accident."

Henze's response to the motion wasn't available and he couldn't be reached for comment Thursday.

In another motion, Rand asked Gerst to allow the jury to hear details of the turmoil surrounding the bishop's life in the weeks before the accident. Reed's death and O'Brien's June 16 arrest came two weeks after the bishop signed an agreement with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office granting him immunity from prosecution in connection with an ongoing investigation into sexual abuse in the diocese.

O'Brien acknowledged in the agreement that he put children of the Phoenix Diocese at risk for covering up for priests accused of sexual abuse.

Rand suggests in the motion that because the embattled bishop's reputation and that of the Catholic Church "were under fire" he had a motive to leave the scene of the accident.

"Involvement in a serious traffic accident is the last thing he and his church needed at the moment," Rand wrote.

O'Brien's attorneys have said the scandal is not relevant in the bishop's criminal case.


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