Testimony Paints Troubling Picture
Bishop's Behavior Questioned
By Joseph A. Reaves
The Arizona Republic
January 30, 2004
Prosecutors used testimony from friends and relatives to paint a picture Thursday of Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien hiding in his home, ignoring phone calls and refusing to acknowledge he was aware police wanted to question him about a fatal hit-and-run accident.
O'Brien is accused of leaving the scene of an accident that led to the death of 43-year-old Jim L. Reed on June 14 in a central Phoenix street. The defense admits O'Brien hit Reed and left the scene, but says the bishop can't be convicted because he never knew he hit a person.
The case resumes Monday.
On Thursday, the bishop's sister, nephew, office assistant and housekeeper offered seemingly innocuous bits of information that the prosecution pulled together into a disturbing scenario.
Their testimony and earlier evidence showed:
• O'Brien left the dinner table at his sister's home around 9 p.m. on Father's Day, June 15, to take a phone call from a friend who told him police wanted to question him about a fatal hit-and-run accident.
• After getting the phone call, O'Brien told his family he was going home to wait for police to contact him.
• Once he got home, he ignored at least a half dozen follow-up calls from worried friends and relatives.
• He also failed to answer his door that night even though his nephew's son could see the bishop walking around inside.
• The next morning, O'Brien continued to ignore phone calls from friends, relatives and police.
• He telephoned an office assistant and asked to have his windshield fixed while police were outside his home trying to question him.
• His housekeeper had trouble getting him to come out of his private quarters.
• When O'Brien did emerge and his housekeeper told him detectives were outside, the bishop kept asking why they were there, even though he told his family 12 hours earlier he was going home to wait for police to contact him.
O'Brien's older sister, Jeanne Dearing, 75, was the first of relatives and friends to testify.
She said O'Brien was having a steak dinner with about 30 relatives at her house when he received a phone call from Monsignor Dale Fushek.
No one heard the bishop talking, Dearing said, but when he returned to the table he was "just entirely different."
O'Brien went silent, stopped eating and uncharacteristically ignored a niece's joke. But he volunteered nothing about the phone call, she said.
Some time later, when the family adjourned to the living room to exchange Father's Day presents, Dearing said she saw O'Brien talk with her son.
"He said the call from Father Fushek told him the police were looking for him . . . and that he killed a person," she said. "He couldn't believe it. He was beside himself.
He said Father Dale told him he better go home because the police were looking for him."
Dearing said she walked her brother to his car, which was parked across the street in a friend's driveway, and saw his damaged windshield.
"He said it could have been a dog, it could have been a rock," she testified. "He said I didn't see the person and I believed him. He doesn't lie . . . and I don't lie either."
Julie Deck, an office assistant for the Phoenix Diocese, testified the bishop called her the morning he was arrested and asked her to start the process of getting a damaged windshield repaired.
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