Navajos Hope for Sincere Apology
Victim's Tribe Offers Ideas for O'Brien's Punishment

By Betty Reid
The Arizona Republic [Phoenix AZ]
February 19, 2004

Tuba City resident and Navajo Dee Wilson wants to see Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien get a just sentence for leaving the scene of a fatal hit-and-run accident, and she has one in mind: punishment that would be served in Navajo country.

"He (the bishop) can help pick up empty beer cans," Wilson said. The jails there don't have enough space. But she said, "I'm sure the Navajo Nation will create a cell for him.

"I personally would not forgive him. But it would just be a way of making people realize, bishop or not, that they need to pay for the trouble they get themselves into."

O'Brien, the former leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, was found guilty Tuesday of leaving the scene of a fatal accident in June that killed Jim L. Reed, a Tuba City native living in Phoenix.

In the months since the accident and throughout the trial that ended with Tuesday's verdict, some Navajos say they have felt slighted that the church has not offered an official and contrite apology to their community. Diocese officials said they donated $5,000 to an account for Reed and that three top church officials attended his July 19 funeral.

But many Navajos, who closely followed the trial, have strong feelings about the diocese and what might be just punishment when O'Brien is sentenced next month.

Ross Smallcanyon, a Catholic at one of the few parishes in Navajo country, said the diocese needs to make amends.

He recommends O'Brien be dispatched to the Catholic Church in Page, where he could work with Navajo families who need help filling out government forms.

"I don't think he should conduct services. I don't think the people would not accept it, maybe later," said Smallcanyon, who added that he would not abandon his faith.

"I was hurt at first when I heard on the radio about the verdict. I talked to my daughter in Phoenix. She told me he (the bishop) had no emotion on his face. I felt like he was not regretful. At least say, 'I'm sorry.' Navajos are very forgiving."

The Reed family hired attorney Robert Ramirezof Miranda, Ramirez & Associates.

Ramirez said his clients want the maximum sentence, 45 months in prison, for O'Brien.

"Yes, the verdict is what we wanted. How could anyone from our side think otherwise?" said Lillie Reed, Jim's sister.

But neither the verdict nor sending three church officials to the funeral is satisfying without an apology from the diocese or O'Brien.

"No one has said, 'I'm sorry,' in the sense that they accepted fault," Ramirez said.

Wilson strongly recommends O'Brien spend time in the Tuba City jail.

"Jim Reed was a Navajo from this area, and a lot of our people, who commit offenses outside the nation, spend time in county jails or big cities where they are caught."

The Tuba City community, along with the rest of the Navajo Nation, has social issues, she said. If O'Brien were ordered to spend time in a Navajo jail, it might highlight many of challenges that face that community, Wilson added.