Closing Arguments Resume in Bishop Hit-and-Run Case

CNN [Phoenix AZ]
February 12, 2004

PHOENIX, Arizona (AP) -- In the days after he was involved in a deadly hit-and-run accident, Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas O'Brien demonstrated wishful thinking -- not criminal intent, his attorney said.

"Isn't it human and natural to say 'Well, what happened in that intersection ... didn't involve me,"' attorney Tom Henze said during closing arguments at the bishop's trial Wednesday.

When police spoke with O'Brien, it had been two days after the June 14 collision that killed pedestrian Jim Reed, who was jaywalking when hit. By then, the bishop had begun to convince himself his car had nothing to do with the accident, Henze said.

O'Brien, 68, is charged with leaving the scene of a fatal accident. If convicted, he could receive probation to 3 3/4 years in prison. The defense was scheduled to resume its closing arguments Thursday.

Prosecutor Anthony Novitsky said O'Brien acted deceptively after the accident. O'Brien continued to drive the car even though it had a large spider web-shaped crack on the windshield, Novitsky said, and wanted to avoid questions that would arise if he wasn't using it.

"He tells no one and he goes about his business as though nothing happened," Novitsky said.

Henze countered that if the bishop was hiding knowledge of the accident, he must have faked a thorough mood change the day afterward when he learned police wanted to talk to him.

O'Brien was jovial during a gathering with family, then became somber after getting a call from a church official, the attorney said.

"Now Thomas O'Brien is disturbed, now he can't speak. Before, he was happy," Henze said.

O'Brien went home after the accident, didn't hide the vehicle and spoke with police without asking for an attorney, Henze told jurors.

The bishop, who testified Monday and Tuesday in his own defense, said he initially thought he hit a dog or that his car had been struck by a rock. Prosecutors argued that O'Brien knew or should have known that he hit a pedestrian.

O'Brien testified Monday that he heard a loud crash but never saw anyone in the road. He acknowledged that he did not see a dog or anyone throwing a rock at him.

O'Brien admitted on the stand Tuesday that he didn't call police after learning officers were investigating a fatal accident in the same area where he hit something.

The bishop's arrest ended his 21-year career as head of the Phoenix Diocese. The accident happened less than two weeks after prosecutors announced O'Brien had struck a deal to avoid indictment on obstruction charges for protecting child-molesting priests.


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