Defense Witness Grilled in Bishop's Trial

By Beth DeFalco [Phoenix AZ]
February 7, 2004

PHOENIX (AP) Prosecutors challenged the testimony of a witness who said a potato-sized rock could have created the same damage to a vehicle driven by Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas O'Brien as a man killed in a fatal hit-and-run.

A rock weighing 1 to 1 1/2 pounds and traveling at 35 mph could have made the same spider-web crack covering the passenger half of O'Brien's windshield, engineering consultant Lester Hendrickson said Friday.

O'Brien is accused of leaving the scene of an accident that killed pedestrian Jim Reed on June 14. He has said he did not realize he hit someone, believing a dog or rock caused the damage to his windshield.

During cross-examination, prosecutor Mitch Rand challenged Hendrickson's windshield calculations.

Hendrickson acknowledged he based his calculations on photos of the windshield and did not view the actual windshield until last week. By then, the glass had been removed from the car and placed in a box.

Rand also used a small rock, baseball and softball to cast doubt on the bishop's contention that he thought a rock hit the car. Rand asked Hendrickson, "Do you think this rock is going to do the same damage as (Reed's) head did?"

"A 1.74 pound rock would," Hendrickson said.

Prosecutors have argued that the 43-year-old Reed jaywalked from the driver's side of the car and that O'Brien knew or should have known he hit a person.

But Hendrickson testified that O'Brien, 68, likely clipped Reed from the passenger's side.

After testimony concluded Friday, defense attorneys filed a motion to prevent prosecutors from calling any rebuttal witnesses. That motion was expected to be heard sometime next week before closing arguments begin.

The trial began Jan. 20. Testimony was slated to wrap up Tuesday and jurors could receive the case by the end of next week.

If convicted, O'Brien faces probation to three years and nine months in prison.

His arrest ended his 21-year career as head of the Phoenix diocese. The accident occurred less than two weeks after prosecutors announced O'Brien had signed an immunity deal to spare him an indictment on obstruction charges for protecting priests accused of child molestation.


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