Bishop’s past could sway sentencing - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Bishop’s past could sway sentencing

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Posted: Thursday, February 19, 2004 12:58 pm | Updated: 5:42 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien's sentencing could examine a lifelong pattern of covering up wrongdoing.

Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley wouldn't elaborate about what punishment he will seek for O'Brien, who was found guilty Tuesday of leaving the scene after hitting a man with his car. But he did offer a clue about what would be presented at a March 12 presentence hearing.

"We shall bring forth additional information that we believe the court should be made aware of regarding information where the bishop was less than forthcoming in other matters that were separate and apart from this trial," Romley said.

O'Brien's punishment ranges from probation to 3 1/2 years in state prison. He could be sentenced to up to one year in county jail as a term of his probation.

Judge Stephen Gerst of Maricopa County Superior Court wouldn't allow the jury to hear about O'Brien's past legal problems at the trial.

Prosecutors wanted to tell the jury through testimony by Monsignor Dale Fushek that the yearlong investigation into sexual misconduct in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix brought a load of pressure upon the bishop. Prosecutors were going to use that information to prove his motive for leaving the scene of the fatality, according to court documents.

Gerst also wouldn't allow prosecutors to bring out an October 2002 incident in which O'Brien hit and damaged a parked car and left without reporting it.

The county attorney's office now will seek to bring past missteps before the court to make the case during sentencing.

Prosecutors spent much time in trial trying to prove the 68-year-old bishop avoided police who were investigating the hit-and-run death of Jim L. Reed, 43, and then took steps to cover up the crime by arranging to get his damaged windshield repaired.

His deception was to act innocent, he was less than forthcoming to his friends and police, and he turned a blind eye to the obvious, prosecutors said. By bringing up past actions, they will be able to argue at sentencing that his behavior after hitting Reed was not new.

A key element likely will be O'Brien's immunity deal with Romley, which included his admission that he covered up for pedophile priests and placed them where they had access to children.

"If I do believe specific information is relevant to the cover-up, I will bring that out (at sentencing)," Romley said.

Two families have said that when they met with O'Brien in 1979 to discuss allegations of sexual abuse by priests, he counseled against going to authorities. A former priest also has come forward to say O'Brien was angry with him for telling one of those families to go to police.

The day the deal was announced O'Brien contradicted his written admission by saying he did not commit any crimes.

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