By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien is the highest ranking Catholic cleric ever charged criminally in the United States. As we go to press, a jury is mulling whether the bishop will celebrate his next Mass behind bars.
Bishop O'Brien is accused of "leaving the scene of a serious injury or fatal accident," a hit-and-run.
Jim Reed, a pedestrian, died in the street where he was struck.
On Monday, February 9, Bishop O'Brien took the stand in a desperate attempt to save himself. Pale, nervous, hands shaking whenever they weren't clasped together, O'Brien exhibited the warmth of a dead cod. While sticking to the incredible claim that he had no idea what he'd run over, the bishop stumbled repeatedly regarding his behavior after the hit-and-run. Worse, his efforts to convey remorse on the witness stand were as piously mechanical as a professional pallbearer's.
It wasn't enough that he wanted to express his regret to Reed's family. No, O'Brien clumsily added that he wanted to express regret to the entire "Native American community," as if the tragedy were racial and not personal.
The night of the fatality, O'Brien sped off. He testified that he parked his car in the garage, inspected the windshield that was destroyed by the impact, went inside and had a few slices of pizza. The next morning he got up, ate breakfast, dilly-dallied for three and a half hours over television, served Mass, returned home and watched sports shows and then went to a gala Father's Day dinner party at his sister's. The phone rang during the festivities and Monsignor Dale Fushek, the bishop's friend and closest adviser, informed O'Brien that there had been a fatal hit-and-run at 19th Avenue and Glendale. The police had O'Brien's license plate number and wanted to question him.
Fushek asked if the bishop had been in that particular neighborhood on Saturday night when the fatal hit-and-run occurred.
"I might have been," replied the bishop.
Might have been?
Refusing to level with his friend and adviser; it's no wonder that Bishop O'Brien didn't hang up and contact the authorities who were searching for him. Instead, he returned to the party. Sat back down to dinner. He stuck around while presents were opened. When he did go home, he didn't call the police. Nor did he answer his ringing phone. When he woke up, he didn't call the police. When the police banged on his door, he didn't answer.
O'Brien didn't call the authorities after the accident. He didn't call the police 24 hours after the accident once he learned they were looking for him. Nor did he contact detectives the following morning. The bishop hid from the law.
When the detectives finally gained entry, they asked the bishop why he hadn't contacted the police, given that he knew he was wanted for questioning.
Bishop O'Brien replied that he didn't know how to contact the police.
The bishop's lawyer tried to salvage the destruction by leading O'Brien.
Why, yes, of course the bishop knew how to phone the authorities. O'Brien simply "misspoke" during his interview with the police.
From the witness stand, O'Brien claimed that what he meant to say was that because Monsignor Fushek hadn't given him the name of a particular officer or a particular department, the leader of the Roman Catholic church here was at a loss as to whom to call at police headquarters.
It was Monsignor Fushek's fault.
In fact, Fushek "misled" the bishop because the monsignor said the accident was at the intersection of 19th Avenue and Glendale. The bishop testified that the accident was west of that particular intersection.
In fact, the accident was at 1950 West Glendale Avenue.
It was Monsignor Fushek's fault.
In an effort to suggest that the bishop in reality did feel some sort of remorse, despite his behavior, the defense attorney had the bishop recount the tears he shed with his housekeeper in the "Pope's Room" at O'Brien's residence.
Of course, those tears only fell after the police had interrogated O'Brien -- after he finally realized that this tragedy would not be swept under the rug.
Before the hit-and-run, we all knew this particular religious leader for his disgraceful behavior in the local sex scandal involving his clergy. Bishop O'Brien's criminal complicity in the sexual abuse of minors by his priests went on for decades. Last June, the bishop signed an admission of guilt in the child molestation cases when prosecutors threatened to haul him before a grand jury unless he confessed and relinquished control of the diocese. O'Brien further promised to undertake serious reform to prevent any more predation by priests upon the innocent.
Within two weeks of this unprecedented humiliation, Bishop O'Brien -- while driving a church vehicle -- struck a pedestrian who was killed.
On the evening of June 14 at approximately 8:30 p.m., Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien stepped on the accelerator and fled the carnage.
Bishop O'Brien drove off without offering last rites.
Bishop O'Brien drove off without rendering aid, without summoning emergency personnel, without providing information for authorities.
In fact, the head of the Catholic church in greater Phoenix hid from investigators.