By Terri Vermeulen Keith
City News Service
LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A man accused of gunning down Los Angeles Catholic Auxiliary Bishop David O’Connell at his home in Hacienda Heights pleaded not guilty Wednesday, to a murder charge.
Superior Court Judge Armenui Amy Ashvanian ordered Carlos Medina, 61, to remain jailed in lieu of just over $2 million bail pending his next appearance May 17 at the downtown Los Angeles courthouse. A date is scheduled to be set then for a hearing to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to require him to stand trial.
Medina is charged with the Feb. 18 killing of the 69-year-old man known as “Bishop Dave,” along with an allegation that he personally used a firearm. He could face up to 35 years to life in state prison if convicted as charged, according to District Attorney George Gascón.
O’Connell was found shot just before 1 p.m. Feb. 18 at his home in the 1500 block of Janlu Avenue, near Turnbull Canyon Road. Sheriff’s officials confirmed the following day that his death was being investigated as a homicide.
Sheriff Robert Luna said there were no signs of forced entry into O’Connell’s home, and the bishop was shot in the bedroom of his home. Gascón said O’Connell had multiple gunshot wounds.
The bishop’s body was discovered when a deacon went to the home to check on him because O’Connell was apparently late for a meeting, Luna said.
Medina is the husband of O’Connell’s housekeeper, and he also performed handyman work at the bishop’s home, according to the sheriff.
The sheriff said tips from the public helped lead investigators to Medina, with one tipster saying that “Medina was acting strange, irrational and made comments about the bishop owing him money.”
But Luna stopped short of saying such a dispute led to the killing, saying it was “something that came up from one of the witnesses.”
Sheriff’s Lt. Michael Modica said last month that Medina made various statements after his arrest about a possible motive, but investigators found them to be largely nonsensical, leading them to believe there’s no validity to the suggestion that a financial debt led to the killing.
Medina’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Pedro Cortes, told reporters after a brief hearing last month, “Our hearts go out to everyone affected by this tragedy. Myself, as well as Mr. Medina’s defense team, look forward to fully investigating all aspects of this case.”
Medina was arrested Feb. 20 after an hours-long standoff at his home in the 2400 block of Kenwood Avenue in Torrance. The sheriff said last month that two firearms were recovered at Medina’s home, and they were being tested to determine if either weapon was involved in the shooting.
Luna also said Medina’s wife was questioned and had been “fully cooperative” with detectives.
The sheriff said Medina drove a dark-colored compact SUV similar to one seen on surveillance video pulling into O’Connell’s driveway and leaving, although it was unsure when that occurred.
O’Connell was a native of Ireland and had been a priest and later a bishop in Los Angeles for 45 years, Archbishop José Gomez said in a statement released following his death.
“He was a peacemaker with a heart for the poor and the immigrant, and he had a passion for building a community where the sanctity and dignity of every human life was honored and protected,” Gomez said.
At the time of his death, O’Connell — widely known as “Bishop Dave” — was vicar for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ San Gabriel Pastoral Region, a post he had since 2015, when Pope Francis appointed him as an auxiliary bishop for the Los Angeles Archdiocese.
O’Connell had previously served as associate pastor at St. Raymond Catholic Church in Downey, St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church in Long Beach and St. Hilary Church of Perpetual Adoration in Pico Rivera and then as pastor of St. Frances X. Cabrini, Ascension, St. Eugene and St. Michael’s parishes, all in Los Angeles.
Thousands of people were on hand March 3 at a funeral Mass for O’Connell at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, marking the end of three days of remembrances.
An exhibit honoring O’Connell’s life and legacy was subsequently opened at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
O’Connell was born in County Cork, Ireland. He was ordained to serve in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 1979, according to Doris Benavides, associate director of media relations for the archdiocese.
As chairman of the inter-diocesan Southern California Immigration Task Force, O’Connell helped coordinate the church’s response to immigrant children and families from Central America in recent years. He also sponsored the enrollment of several young immigrants in Catholic schools, a number of whom have advanced to college.
He served as a member of the Priest Pension Board and on the Together in Mission Board as well as the Archdiocesan Finance Council, the archdiocese said. He was a member of the Council of Priests and a Knight of Peter Claver.
At the national level, he was chairman of the Subcommittee on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.
O’Connell was honored last September with the Evangelii Gaudium Award from St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, “for his selfless service to the community and the Church in LA,” Benavides said.