A Maricopa County Superior Court judge denied Bishop Thomas O’Brien’s request Thursday to move his fatal hit-and-run trial out of Maricopa County.
Judge Stephen Gerst found that the publicity surrounding the case doesn’t rise to the level where it can be presumed that the retired Catholic leader would get an unfair trial.
Citing case law, the judge said a defendant’s burden of proof in showing that the publicity was "so unfair, so prejudicial, and so pervasive" to affect the jurors is "extremely heavy and rarely met."
"This is pretty settled law," Gerst said.
Gerst will determine after questioning the jurors if the publicity had any effect on their objectivity, in which case the trial still could be moved.
O’Brien’s attorney, Tom Henze, argued in court papers that the bishop could not get a fair trial in Maricopa County because the majority of the media coverage "has been slanted sharply against the defendant in this case."
At the time of filing his Dec. 23 motion, 236 newspaper stories had been written about the June 14 fatal crash, Henze said.
On the night of the incident, O’Brien was returning home from a Mass when police say he struck Jim L. Reed, 43.
Police say O’ Brien did not stop or return to the scene. O’Brien told police two days later he believed someone had thrown a rock at his windshield or he had hit a dog or cat.
O’Brien resigned from his post as leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix after the crash and is charged with one count of leaving the scene of a fatal accident.
Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday.