Thanks to the popular CSI television programs, today’s juries expect a show in the courtroom – and prosecutors in the murder trial of the Rev. Gerald Robinson don’t plan to let them down.
The prosecution is expected to augment its case with plenty of visuals, including the use of charts, videotapes, and high-tech “smart boards” that integrate the display functions of a laptop computer and an erasable whiteboard.
Father Robinson, 68, is facing a murder charge in the 1980 slaying of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl. The 71-year-old nun was found slain in the chapel sacristy of Mercy Hospital the day before Easter, 1980.
She had been strangled, then stabbed multiple times. Her clothes had been arranged to look as though she had been molested, which investigators called a ruse by the killer to mislead police.
Father Robinson, a priest in the Toledo Catholic Diocese, was arrested in April, 2004, 24 years after the brutal killing.
Jury selection in his trial begins today in Lucas County Common Pleas Court under the glare of intense media cover-age, including gavel-to-gavel coverage planned by CourtTV. If convicted, he could face life in prison. The first step starts today with efforts to select 12 jurors and 4 alternates from a potential pool of 146 prospective jurors.
Subpoenas to appear as potential jurors were sent to 250 people, but 104 were excused by Judge Thomas Osowik, who is handling the case. The reasons ranged from medical conditions to an inability to get baby-sitters, but the most common excuse was outdated addresses making the subpoenas undeliverable, according to Jean Atkin, court administrator.
The prospective jurors will fill out questionnaires that ask basic questions such as age, marital status, military service, and education. They also will be asked if they have “concerns or strong opinions” about the Roman Catholic Church and members of the clergy.
The religious beliefs of the prospective jurors and how much, if any, pretrial media coverage each has seen or heard are expected to be among the questions raised during this so-called “voir dire” process, in which each juror’s competence and potential conflicts are explored.
Judge Osowik and the defense and prosecuting attorneys will winnow the field until they agree on a jury. Opening arguments will follow, possibly on Thursday. The first witnesses have been subpoenaed for April 24.
The judge imposed a gag order on everyone involved in the case months before the trial, which is expected to last three to four weeks.
The first week, prosecutors are expected to focus on the physical evidence from the 1980 crime scene. They plan to call 30 to 40 witnesses to the stand; the defense expects to call 8 to 10.
Among the experts are Paulette Sutton, a Memphis medical examiner and an authority on bloodstain-pattern transfer analysis who will testify for the prosecution, and Kathleen Reichs, a forensic pathologist and consultant for the TV show Bones who will testify for the defense.
The second week of the trial is expected to center on police investigations from 1980 and the cold-case squad’s work that began in December, 2003.
One piece of evidence expected to be introduced at the trial is a videotape of police questioning Father Robinson in 2004.
Blade staff writer Mark Reiter contributed to this report.