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Last Updated: Saturday, 27 March, 2004, 00:33 GMT
'Hit-and-run' bishop sentenced
Bishop Thomas O'Brien at the court in Phoenix, Arizona
O'Brien says he still wants to serve Catholics in Arizona
A former US Roman Catholic bishop has been sentenced to four years probation following a fatal hit-and-run incident.

Thomas O'Brien was ordered to do 1,000 hours of community service and has lost his driving licence for five years.

The former bishop of Phoenix, Arizona, was found guilty in February of leaving the scene of an accident after hitting Jim Reed, 43, while driving his car.

He claimed he thought he had hit a dog at the time, but has accepted blame and apologised to Mr Reed's family.

Thomas O'Brien is believed to be the first Catholic bishop in US history to be convicted of a felony.

He could have been sentenced to as much as three years and nine months behind bars for the incident.

Last week, O'Brien asked the court for probation and said he could still serve Catholics in Arizona as a priest.

He apologised to the family of 43-year-old carpenter Jim Reed, saying: "I know there is no one to blame for this but me."

'Glances and whispers'

Prosecutors had asked for six months in jail and four years of probation.

Judge Stephen Gerst said the conviction alone was a significant punishment for such a public figure.

Bishop O'Brien's Buick
The crash left a giant crack in the windscreen of O'Brien's car
"He will bear the quiet glances and whispers of others for the rest of his life," he said.

O'Brien declined to comment after the hearing.

He left his post as bishop of Phoenix shortly after his arrest last June.

He was charged with leaving the scene, but not causing the crash as the pedestrian was not obeying traffic rules.

During the trial, he had argued that he did not see his victim and thought that a dog or a rock had hit his car.

Prosecutors said he must have realised he had hit a person.

The 12-person jury took five days to reach its verdict.

The accident happened less than two weeks after O'Brien relinquished some of his authority in a deal to avoid being indicted for allegedly sheltering molesters among the clergy in a sex abuse case.

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