Two prospective witnesses in the murder trial of the Rev. Gerald Robinson – a leading expert in blood-stain pattern analysis and a forensic anthropologist – will be allowed to testify at the priest’s upcoming trial in Lucas County Common Pleas Court, a judge ruled yesterday.
Judge Thomas Osowik said Paulette Sutton, a prosecution witness who is a Memphis medical examiner, and Kathleen Reichs, whose writings inspired the FOX television show Bones, are qualified as experts and their testimony would be relevant and reliable to a jury.
The ruling was made after a hearing in which the prosecutors and the priest’s defense team questioned the witnesses about their background, education, and experience and the methods they use to evaluate evidence.
Called a Daubert hearing, it is designed to test the admissibility of scientific evidence.
Father Robinson, 67, is charged in the April 5, 1980, stabbing and strangulation of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl in the chapel of the former Mercy Hospital near downtown Toledo.
His trial, scheduled for mid-April, has attracted national attention.
Ms. Sutton, who is nationally known in the field of blood-stain transfer evidence, is a medical examiner and assistant director of forensic services at the University of Tennessee in Memphis.
She and two other recognized experts in bloodstain pattern evidence have written a book that is widely used in the law enforcement field. Ms. Sutton is among nearly 100 witnesses who could be called by the prosecution to testify at the trial.
She told J. Christopher Anderson, a county assistant prosecutor, that she has testified as an expert witness at more than 100 trials throughout the country.
Without discussing the details of her findings, she said she was provided with an altar cloth that was used to cover the victim and a letter opener that police believed was used to kill the 71-year-old nun.
Ms. Sutton said she conducted scientific experiments on the items, comparing the transfer patterns on the letter opener to specific stains.
Father Robinson emerged as an early suspect and he was questioned in the weeks after the killing. Police seized the letter opener when they searched the priest’s apartment in a building next to the hospital.
Later yesterday, Ms. Reichs, a forensic anthropologist from Charlotte, N.C., testified as to her expertise and background in the analysis of sharp-force trauma to bones, including the work she did in assisting in the identification of bodies in the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York.
Ms. Reichs is well known for her best-selling crime novels that she began writing in 1997. The television show Bones, which began airing last year, is based on characters and criminal investigations in the books.
She said attorneys for Father Robinson consulted with her for his defense and provided her with documents from the case, including photographs of the crime scene and coroner and police reports.