A jury began deliberating Thursday in the hit-and-run case against Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas O’Brien, whose arrest in the death of a pedestrian last summer ended his 21-year career as head of the Phoenix Diocese.
O’Brien, 68, could get up to 3¾ years in prison if convicted of leaving the scene of the accident that killed pedestrian Jim Reed, who was jaywalking when he was hit.
The bishop said he thought he hit a dog or that his car had been struck by a rock. Prosecutors argued that O’Brien knew or should have known that he hit someone because of the loud noise and the big spider-web crack in the windshield of his Buick.
Defense attorney Tom Henze told the jury the prosecution’s case was based on speculation.
“They don’t have enough evidence to convince you that he had seen anyone before or after” the accident, Henze said. “In fact, the evidence shows otherwise.” He added: “This case is really about approximately 10 seconds — the 10 seconds or so that surrounded the accident.”
Prosecutor Anthony Novitsky noted that the law requires motorists to stop when they know they hit someone. “It does not encourage willful blindness,” Novitsky said.
O’Brien said he heard a loud crash but never saw anyone in the road. He acknowledged that he did not see a dog or anyone throwing a rock at him. He admitted he did not call police after learning officers were investigating a fatal accident in the same area where he hit something.
The defense contended that dim lighting, headlight glare and the victim’s dark clothes made him hard to see.
The bishop resigned after his arrest. The accident happened less than two weeks after prosecutors announced O’Brien had struck a deal to avoid indictment on obstruction charges for protecting child-molesting priests.