LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A man accused of gunning down Los Angeles Catholic Auxiliary Bishop David O'Connell at his home in Hacienda Heights was charged Wednesday with murder.
Carlos Medina, 61, was arrested Monday in connection with Saturday's shooting of the 69-year-old bishop. Medina is the husband of O'Connell's housekeeper, and he also performed handyman work at the bishop's home, Sheriff Robert Luna said earlier this week.
District Attorney George Gascón said the murder charge against Medina includes an allegation of the personal use of a firearm. Medina could face up to 35 years to life in state prison if he is convicted as charged, according to the county's top prosecutor.
Medina appeared briefly in court in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday afternoon, but his arraignment was postponed at the defense's request until March 22. Superior Court Judge Armenui Amy Ashvanian ordered him to remain jailed in lieu of $2.03 million bail.
Medina's attorney, Deputy Public Defender Pedro Cortes, told reporters after the brief hearing: "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."
O'Connell was found shot just before 1 p.m. Saturday at his home in the 1500 block of Janlu Avenue, near Turnbull Canyon Road. Sheriff's officials confirmed Sunday that his death was being investigated as a homicide. Luna said it was still being determined exactly when O'Connell was shot.
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.
Luna 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 the sheriff stopped short of saying such a dispute led to the killing, saying it was "something that came up from one of the witnesses" -- and that investigators were still conducting interviews.
Gascón did not discuss a possible motive when he announced the murder charge during a midday news conference, saying only that the case remains under investigation. Sheriff's Lt. Michael Modica said at the news conference 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.
"I know this has been a shock for the community," the district attorney said. "It was obviously a very tragic event, but I can't say enough about the professionalism and the work of the men and women of the L.A. County Sheriff's Department and the way they conducted this investigation, professionally and expeditiously."
Medina was arrested around 8:15 a.m. Monday following an hours-long standoff at his home in the 2400 block of Kenwood Avenue in Torrance. Luna said two firearms were recovered at Medina's home, and they were being tested to determine if either weapon was involved in the Saturday shooting.
Luna also said that Medina's wife was being questioned and has been "fully cooperative" with detectives. While Medina was the husband of the bishop's housekeeper, Medina himself had also "previously done work at the bishop's residence," although it was unclear when, according to the sheriff.
Luna 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.
Luis Lopez was a neighbor of Medina's and told ABC7 that Medina seemed like a good man and "looked like he wouldn't hurt a fly."
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.
Meanwhile, many people continued to mourn O'Connell.
The L.A. City Council adjourned its meeting Tuesday in his honor, with several council members speaking about the bishop's impact on the community.
Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez said O'Connell "will be remembered as always fighting for change in the communities most impacted by violence."
Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson said, "This is one of our most loving and shining angels that we've lost."
On Monday, LAPD Chief Michel Moore spoke of "an unimaginable and tragic loss of a peacemaker," adding, "may God welcome Bishop O'Connell home, a good and faithful servant. We all mourn this man's loss, and am grateful to the sheriff's department for their relentless pursuit and the community's assistance to identify the individual responsible."
State Sen. Bob Archuleta, D-Norwalk, said O'Connell was a friend of his, and offered condolences from Gov. Gavin Newsom and other state officials at a Monday afternoon news briefing with reporters.
"He served the community and went to Salesian High School in East Los Angeles to bring people together and move forward," Archuleta said.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn told reporters that O'Connell's death has "left me and other people from here to Ireland heartbroken. He was known to walk among gang members, the homeless and transients to bring peace to them."
Gomez was overcome with emotion at a Monday news conference as he discussed the death of his friend and colleague, calling him "a good friend to all of Los Angeles."
"He worked to show compassion to the poor, to the homeless, to the immigrant, to all those living on society's margins," Gomez said. "He was a good priest and good bishop, and a man of peace."
O'Connell was born in County Cork, Ireland. He studied for the priesthood at All Hallows College in Dublin and was ordained to serve in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 1979, according to Doris Benavides, associate director of media relations for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
As chairman of the interdiocesan 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 U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In September, O'Connell was honored with the Evangelii Gaudium Award from St. John's Seminary in Camarillo, "for his selfless service to the community and the Church in L.A," Benavides said.
The sheriff's Homicide Bureau urged anyone with information regarding the shooting to call them at 323-890-5500 or Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477. Tipsters can also use a smartphone by downloading the "P3 Tips" Mobile app on Google Play or the Apple App Store or by using the website http://lacrimestoppers.org.