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Bishop in Hit-and-Run Apologizes

March 20, 2004|From Associated Press

PHOENIX — Bishop Thomas O'Brien apologized in court Friday to the family of the pedestrian he killed in a hit-and-run last year, saying: "I know there is no one to blame for this but me."

The 68-year-old cleric spoke during a pre-sentencing hearing. He could get anything from probation to three years and nine months in prison when he is sentenced March 26 in the June death of Jim Reed.

Also Friday, the judge dismissed a request from O'Brien's lawyers to reverse the conviction and grant him a new trial.

In court papers, prosecutors sought a sentence of six months behind bars and four years of probation. O'Brien asked for probation and said he could still serve Catholics in Arizona as a priest.

The bishop said he had not realized he hit a person at the time of the accident but apologized nevertheless to Reed's family. The family, in court for the hearing, declined to comment on the apology.

A jury found O'Brien guilty last month of leaving the scene of a fatal accident. O'Brien, who resigned as head of the Phoenix Diocese after his arrest, was believed to be the first Roman Catholic bishop in U.S. history to be convicted of a felony.

Shortly before the accident, he signed a deal with prosecutors that spared him indictment on obstruction charges for protecting child-molesting priests.

O'Brien's lawyers requested a new trial, saying they were prevented from cross-examining a key prosecution witness and jurors were given improper instructions.

Prosecutors argued that the bishop's handling of sexual abuse allegations was applicable in sentencing, to show a pattern of avoiding responsibility.

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