Priest Headed to Trial Over Nun’s Slaying

TOLEDO, Ohio — When Sister Margaret Ann Pahl’s body was found the day before Easter 26 years ago, she had been strangled and stabbed in a hospital chapel. The wounds on her chest and neck resembled a cross.

Jury selection was to begin Monday in the murder trial of the man accused of her killing, the Rev. Gerald Robinson, the same Roman Catholic priest who presided at Pahl’s funeral Mass.

Robinson, 68, is accused of strangling and stabbing Pahl in 1980 at the hospital where they worked. Investigators have not disclosed a motive for the slaying but said it may have been some kind of ritual slaying.

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Investigators who reopened the murder after two decades say they found bloodstains on an altar cloth that matched those from a sword-shaped letter opener. Police now believe the letter opener, found in Robinson’s room, was the murder weapon.

Prosecutors plan to use Robinson’s statements made to police, including a claim that someone else had confessed to killing the woman. He later admitted making that up, according to an investigator’s testimony earlier this year.

Among those expected to testify at the trial are a medical examiner who has written a book on bloodstains and a forensic anthropologist who also is a best-selling mystery author and the inspiration behind Fox’s crime show “Bones.”

Potential jurors will be asked whether they have opinions on sexual molestation charges against clergy members and if they have strong thoughts on the Catholic Church. A jury pool of about 250 people has been called, the largest county officials can remember for a trial.

Robinson was questioned by police twice in the weeks after the killing. Police said he was a suspect because he was near the chapel when the body of Pahl, 71, was found by another nun.

Robinson was the chaplain at Mercy Hospital and worked closely with the nun, who was the caretaker of the hospital chapel. Investigators took Robinson into custody in April 2004. They also exhumed the nun’s body two years ago and gathered DNA samples.

Investigators reopened the murder case in December 2003 after the prosecutor’s office received a letter about a woman’s claims that she was molested by priests for years as a child. Among the names she mentioned was Robinson. Police were unable to substantiate her allegations of sexual abuse.

Police have said the killing may have been some kind of ritual slaying because of evidence found in the chapel and because Pahl’s body was posed to look as though she had been sexually assaulted, even though investigators say she wasn’t.

Robinson, who is free on bail, could get life in prison if convicted of murder. He cannot get the death penalty because it was not in effect at the time of the slaying.

Source

(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
AP, via the Washington Post, USA
Apr. 17, 2006
John Seewer
www.washingtonpost.com
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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday April 17, 2006.
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