Prosecutors Recommend Jail Time for O'Brien

By Kim Smith
East Valley Tribune [Phoenix AZ]
Downloaded March 20, 2004

Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien should serve no less than six months in jail for leaving the scene of a collision that killed Jim Reed, 43, last June, prosecutors told a judge Friday.

In addition, O'Brien, 68, should be placed on probation for four years and have to perform 500 hours of community service.

"Jim Reed's family must know that their pain has not been ignored and the community must know that regardless of what station one holds in life, there are serious consequences for such irresponsible behavior," deputy Maricopa County attorney Mitchell Rand wrote in recommending O'Brien's sentence.

Prosecutors arrived at the recommended sentence after studying 75 cases in which a defendant was convicted of the Class 4 felony of leaving the scene of a fatal or serious injury accident.

The average incarceration time was 8.3 months with an average probationary length of three years.

Rand formally made his recommendation during a hearing Friday in which O'Brien for the first time apologized for leaving the accident scene.

"The loss and sadness related to Mr. Reed's death and my sadness at being involved in an accident that resulted in his loss of life places a feeling of responsibility in my soul, in my heart and in my mind," O'Brien said.

O'Brien, who resigned his position as head of the Phoenix Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church after being charged, asked the judge not to send him to prison, saying he can still help the community and the diocese.

"However, I want the court to know, whatever it decides is the appropriate sentence for me, I will humbly accept that sentence and I know that the God I have served throughout my life will not abandon me and will help me learn from all of this," O'Brien said.

O'Brien was convicted of leaving the scene of the fatal accident in February. He hit Reed who was intoxicated and jaywalking June 14 at Glendale and 19th avenues in Phoenix, and then drove home.

Prosecutors told jurors O'Brien avoided police who were investigating the hit-and-run and took steps to cover up the crime by arranging to get his damaged windshield repaired.

O'Brien told police, and later, jurors that he believed he hit a dog or that someone had thrown a rock at his car.

The incident occurred a couple of weeks after O'Brien acknowledged he had covered up for priests accused of sexually abusing children in the diocese.

Tom Henze, O'Brien's attorney, told Superior Court Judge Stephen Gerst, that all of the good O'Brien did in his 43 years as a priest should overshadow his mistakes.

In cases where incarceration has been imposed, the defendant was impaired, knew they hit someone, had prior convictions or faced additional charges, Henze said. Gerst, who denied Henze's motion for a new trial, is scheduled to sentence O'Brien on Friday. Last week, Gerst heard from Reed's family and the victims of sexual abuse at the hands of priests who once served in the Phoenix diocese. O'Brien could receive as much as 3 1/2 years in prison.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.