Lord of the Lies

Page 9 of 9

But Bob Owens wasn't on trial; Mark Branon was.

The jury convicted Branon of being the brains behind the Rosen plot, of a marijuana-smuggling operation, and of running a continuing criminal enterprise.

Branon was acquitted of orchestrating the aborted murder-for-hire plot involving his ex-attorney Sheldon Sherman.

Branon ranted for more than an hour before he was sentenced. He spoke at length about Bob Owens, and what he said sounded similar to what many folks are saying about him now:

"How the hell can the state of Arizona let this guy go in and out of prisons under the guise that he's a private investigator? He's not. He's a felon.

"Bob Owens creates crimes to solve them and to get the perks for it. That's what Bob Owens does. Bob Owens has a smooth pitch. He's believable. I trusted him. Big mistake. He appear[ed] in court in August [2002] with me and was working for the police. To me, there's just something wrong right there. He's like a plant for the government."

Judge Susan Bolton sentenced Branon to 60 years in prison.

Branon then plea-bargained to a concurrent sentence in the state's drug-conspiracy case against him -- the one Billie Rosen had been prosecuting until the assassination attempt.

Maricopa County prosecutors are poised to take the next crack at Mark Branon, which is why he currently is housed at the Madison Street Jail.

Branon is scheduled early next year to face a new set of charges in the Rosen shooting. The charges are conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, attempted murder, and aggravated assault.

"If the authorities want to talk to me about Bob Owens," he tells New Times, "and are willing to do something that may help me look forward to living, I can do a lot for them. I'm a drug smuggler, a pot smuggler, I admit that. But I'm not a murderer, or a guy who sets up murders. Owens told me the murder of Billie needed to be done. Didn't I say in my suicide note that Owens drove me to Billie's house? That's the truth. And that's just one thing."

On the Saturday morning after Tom Thinnes died, hundreds of people gathered at central Phoenix's St. Francis Catholic Church for his funeral Mass.

The mourners included a who's who of the Valley's legal community, ex-clients and his grief-stricken family.

Father Bill Ameche said of Thinnes, "He was tremendously honest. Tom had an honest heart, a clean heart. He saw other people as friends."

Ben Thinnes -- one of the sons who had discovered the break-in at the storage facility -- spoke movingly of his father, saying "he established a standard by which we could judge our own actions. My father lives today."

That Bob Owens didn't show up to pay his respects surprised no one. If he had, many attendees, including members of Tom Thinnes' immediate family, may have physically attacked him on the spot, church or no church.

Much of the talk after the ceremony centered on the strangely symbiotic relationship of the two men, and how the pressures surrounding that union's end had led to Thinnes' demise.

Someone mentioned Thinnes' novel about the criminal-justice system, which was published in the late 1980s. It was titled The System, and the words written by barrister F. Lee Bailey on the book jacket seem sadly prescient:

"Tom Thinnes exposes The System for what it may have to be . . . a system to protect a chosen few."

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin