Mystery 2nd Car in O'Brien Case Hasn't Been Found

By Joseph A. Reaves and Carol Sowers
The Arizona Republic [Phoenix AZ]
January 8, 2004

The second vehicle involved in the fatal hit-and-run accident that led to Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien's resignation apparently still is missing after all.

In a surprise announcement during pretrial hearings Wednesday, prosecutors accused O'Brien's attorneys of staging a "publicity stunt" last month when they announced they had tracked down the so-called missing second vehicle.

Witnesses reported the bishop's champagne-colored Buick sedan struck pedestrian Jim Reed on a central Phoenix street June 14 and Reed then was hit by a second car. Both vehicles left the scene.

The bishop was arrested two days later at his home while trying to have the smashed windshield on his car repaired.

The second vehicle never was found.

O'Brien's attorneys, however, made headlines last month when they told Judge Stephen A. Gerst they had managed to track down a 1987 Nissan using license-plate numbers found in police radio transcripts from the night of the accident.

Lead defense attorney Tom Henze said he bought the car in October but kept it secret for 10 weeks before telling the court and prosecutors about it.

He hinted that the fact that prosecutors and police failed to track down the car themselves indicated they did a poor job investigating the case.

But during Wednesday's pretrial hearings, prosecutors made the stunning announcement that the vehicle Henze turned over to them in December wasn't involved in the accident.

"There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest in any way that vehicle was involved in a collision with Jim Reed," Deputy County Attorney Anthony Novitsky said.

Novitsky said a special team of investigators from the Phoenix Police Department had examined the car and determined it clearly wasn't involved.

"It was a publicity stunt," Novitsky said.

The second vehicle and its role - or lack of role - became the focal point of nearly three hours of arguments Wednesday.

Henze produced copies of an article in Wednesday's editions of The Arizona Republic that reported County Attorney Rick Romley told a press conference the day before that he had yet to make a decision on whether Henze might face obstruction-of-justice charges for failing to turn over the second car as soon as he found it.

Henze told Gerst the newspaper article obligated him to consult with O'Brien to see if the bishop still wanted to be represented by an attorney who himself might face criminal prosecution. He asked for a one-month delay in the trial and permission to seek a mistrial later.

Gerst pointed out that the possibility of criminal or ethical charges had been raised in another Republic article last month. Henze could have consulted O'Brien then.

The judge refused to delay the trial after Novitsky and co-prosecutor Mitch Rand consulted Romley and announced unequivocally that no charges were being considered against Henze.

Gerst was clearly angry at times about the legal wrangling and ordered both sides to return to court today to ensure the case remains on track for jury selection to begin Monday.


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