Student Key Witness in Bishop Case

By Jessica Lee
Arizona Daily Wildcat [Phoenix AZ]
February 20, 2004

When Kellie Gonzalez came across a man lying in the middle of a Phoenix street on the night of June 14, 2003, she had no idea it would affect her entire first year in college.

Gonzalez, a pre-physiological sciences freshman, was a witness in the trial Tuesday that convicted Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien of leaving the scene of a fatal hit-and-run. O'Brien was head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, a position he no longer holds.

Although she did not see pedestrian Jim Reed get hit in the accident, Gonzalez was the first person on the scene.

"I left work and was driving down Glendale Avenue to attend a work party, and that was when I saw Mr. Reed in the road. Immediately I called 911," Gonzalez said.

Working as a lifeguard for the City of Phoenix, Gonzalez used her basic first aid and CPR skills in an attempt to help Reed.

"I think that is what kept me calm on the scene, knowing that I had that training. Other than that, I am not really sure how anyone could come up onto the scene and stay so calm," Gonzalez said.

After blocking traffic so Reed would not be hit again, three or four minutes passed while Gonzalez was completely alone attempting to treat his injuries.

"Then two men came walking on scene. I got one of the guys to take off his shirt so we could apply pressure to Mr. Reed's head because it was bleeding really badly. They stayed the rest of the time with me," Gonzalez said.

After the initial shock of the

accident, the second scariest part came the following day, Gonzalez said.

"It was Sunday after church, and I told my mom I wanted to go to the hospital. I talked to the people in the E.R. They said they could only tell me that he came into the hospital last night, that he wasn't admitted to a recovery floor and he is no longer in the hospital," Gonzalez said. "At that point, I literally broke down in tears."

As a Baptist, Gonzalez said she found comfort in her faith.

"I think the most calming part for me is that I let my faith play into it, saying, 'He's fine. He's in heaven.' But honestly, there was no calming point," Gonzalez said.

Last June, Gonzalez had just turned 18 and was deciding where she wanted to attend college. Although she had her eye on a school in Texas, she ultimately decided to stay in Arizona.

"I knew I would have to come back to testify," Gonzalez said.

For the freshman, the incident forced her to grow up quickly.

"The most interesting part was, at this age, this is not something you are supposed to be doing, testifying for a high-profile case," Gonzalez said. "I have heard of someone taking off school for jury duty, but I have never heard of anyone taking off school to testify. This all happened right after I hit the adult stage."

Gonzalez knew the case would go to trial since it involved O'Brien, who, at the time, was in the news for his role in covering up sexual abuse involving Phoenix priests.

"Once I found out it was Bishop O'Brien, I knew it was going to be a big deal. It was something I always knew would go to trial, but I

didn't think I would have to testify."

Gonzalez was on the witness stand for only 15 minutes.

"I was nervous. I don't know what made my nerves calm down. I felt that this was my duty because someone else had suffered for his mistake," Gonzalez said. "I didn't feel I had another choice."

After being forced to miss three days of school during the first week of the semester to testify at the trial, Gonzalez said she believes her testimony was important to the prosecution.

"I would say it was pretty significant. I was the first one on the scene. I was the person who was standing by Mr. Reed's side when he died. I wouldn't want to be lying alone in the middle of the street. For me, I look back and I think, 'At least he wasn't there alone. At least I was there with him,'" Gonzalez said. "That is not what kept me sane, but is what kept me OK with it."

O'Brien now awaits a sentence that could range from probation to almost four years in prison. The severity of the punishment could be influenced by evidence that he covered up sexual molestation accusations leveled at some Phoenix priests.

That twist in the trial has brought more attention to Catholics.

For Gonzalez, who has been hounded by the media, the first question asked is usually whether she is Catholic.

"That's everyone's No. 1 question. And when I say 'no', that's a big thing. (In the media reports), right after my statement that I think he should get more punishment, they add, 'She's not Catholic,'" Gonzalez said.

The Rev. Michael Fones of the St. Thomas More Catholic Newman Center noted the important role spiritual leaders hold.

"It is a reminder we hold leaders to high standards. We have given them responsibility for the common good, and we hope they act accordingly," Fones said. "I feel bad for the fellow who died and his family. It is a real tragedy."

Now that O'Brien has been convicted, some speculate he will receive a milder sentence because of his role in the Church.

"Truthfully, I am hoping for jail time. I think he deserves it. Anyone else would get it. There are other incidents where other people in similar situations got jail time. Why should he be treated any differently?" Gonzalez said.

Leo Montilla, an optical science and engineering sophomore, agreed.

"He should be tried in a judicial court just like any other citizen. We all have the same rights," Montilla said. Montilla is actively involved with the Newman Center.

Although her testimony is over, Gonzalez is still emotionally tied to the case.

"It will probably be one of those things I always have in the back of my mind," Gonzalez said.


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