What was he thinking?!

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And yet the bishop left neither a business card nor a note on Schake's windshield for possible follow-up. He did not report the fender-bender to any of the security guards. He just disappeared.

This obviously made a big impression on Schake at the time of the accident.

"[The security guard] said he saw the bishop looking at his own vehicle as well as mine. I was surprised when I learned that the car belonged to the bishop," said Schake. "I was surprised that ownership of the accident was not taken. That would be true of anyone."

It would be particularly true for the head of the Roman Catholic church in Phoenix. But Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien never took responsibility for his behavior in matters large or small.

It's Wednesday, February 4, and the defense team of Tom Henze and Patrick McGroder III are wearing identical, tailored, gray pinstripe suits. The sartorial flash of the lawyers is exceeded only by their reputations.

At first glance, Bishop O'Brien appears to be wearing only a simple priest's black suit. But the right hand sports a gold ring larger than a Godiva chocolate. Around his neck hangs a crucifix embedded with enormous, gaudy chunks of turquoise. And his fingers are wonderfully manicured.

Across the aisle, prosecutors Anthony Novitsky and Mitch Rand make do with honest wool suits and plain wedding bands.

The bishop has many friends in the gallery. Staunch and faithful, they believe Mary was a virgin, and they believe O'Brien is innocent. The bishop's sister sits in the back row. The siblings are so identical in appearance that it often looks like the bishop is sitting at the rear of the court in a dyed red wig.

Today, the dead man, Jim Reed, will be tried for being a drunken Indian.

McGroder is arguably the state's top personal injury lawyer, well known for representing police officer Jason Schechterle who was horribly burned after his Ford Crown Victoria burst into flames.

A specialist in accident-scene reconstructions, McGroder has already proved his worth eliciting damaging admissions from a detective early in the trial. The witness conceded that during the bishop's first interview, the officer had said it was possible O'Brien never saw what he hit.

Henze is infamous in criminal circles. In 1983, Keith Begay, the head of the transportation authority on the Navajo reservation, was videotaped taking a cash bribe. He later confessed. Henze walked him.

Today, the defense will attempt to convince the jury that the victim, Jim Reed, was so intoxicated at the time of the accident that he was responsible for what happened.

This is clearly an attempt to take the jury's eye off the ball. Who caused the accident is not an issue. Bishop O'Brien is not charged with causing the accident but rather fleeing its aftermath.

While the autopsy report makes it clear that Reed was intoxicated and the physical evidence is abundant that he was jaywalking, the defense chooses to red-marker the obvious with Stacey Arey, a single mom who lives in an apartment at the scene of the accident.

Unlike the parade of unctuous expert witnesses, Arey is forthright and likable. She is led smoothly through her tale by Henze and charms the jury by continually mispronouncing the floor covering in her apartment as "linoneum." She apologizes each time she stumbles.

On the evening Reed was killed, Arey had the door to her apartment open so that the fumes from her housecleaning could vent. Upon returning to her living room, she found the huge, six-foot-two Reed swaying unsteadily and demanding money.

She had no idea who this intoxicated giant was and quickly grabbed a knife.

"I don't know you. You better get out of here before I stab you," Arey recounted for the jury.

She asked the judge if it was permissible to repeat the expletive she'd hurled at the intruder and then quoted herself more vividly.

Reed demanded two dollars from Arey for the bus.

Faced with armed resistance, Reed staggered out of the apartment and into the path of Bishop O'Brien.

This was a colorful anecdote told by a sympathetic witness that was wildly irrelevant to the case at hand.

On cross-examination, prosecutor Novitsky nicely parried Henze with irrelevancies of his own.

Wasn't it true that Reed did not force his way in because, after all, the door was open? Wasn't it true that he could have been in the complex visiting friends and become disoriented after drinking and thought he'd walked into a buddy's apartment? Wasn't it true that he never threatened Arey?

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey