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Bishop Hit & Run Case Before Jury

The jury in the hit-and-run case of Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas O'Brien began deliberating from scratch after a judge excused one juror and called a substitute.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Stephen Gerst said only that the juror was excused Friday for personal reasons, and told jurors not to speculate on reasons for the substitution.

The new jury panel adjourned without a verdict and is scheduled to resume deliberating Tuesday.

O'Brien, 68, could get anything from probation to over three years in prison if convicted of leaving the scene of the accident that killed pedestrian Jim Reed, who was jaywalking when he was hit June 14.

The bishop, whose arrest ended his 21-year career as head of the Phoenix diocese, 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. Prosecutor Anthony Novitsky said that the law requires motorists to stop when they know they hit someone.

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.

O'Brien said he heard a loud crash but never saw anyone in the road. The defense contended that dim lighting, headlight glare and the victim's dark clothes made him hard to see.

O'Brien admitted he did not call police after learning officers were investigating a fatal accident in the same area where he hit something.

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.

By Ananda Shorey

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