Eighteen of 37 prospective jurors interviewed today were dismissed in the second round of jury selection for the murder trial of the Rev. Gerald Robinson, who is accused of killing a nun in 1980.
Three of those were excused because of their strong feelings for or against the Roman Catholic Church and Catholic clergy. The rest had financial, family, or medical concerns that would have prevented them from serving in a case that is expected to last three to four weeks.
The process of selecting 12 jurors and four alternates from a pool of 99 prospective jurors began yesterday and had been scheduled to conclude this afternoon, but a slow start with individual interviews yesterday pushed the selection process into tomorrow.
By the end of the day, a total of 67 prospective jurors have been interviewed and 21 have been excused.
Judge Thomas Osowik of Lucas County Common Pleas Court, defense attorney Alan Konop, and assistant Lucas County prosecutors Dean Mandros, Larry Kiroff, and Chris Anderson quizzed the prospective jurors about their ability to serve in the high-profile trial, their knowledge of the case, and about their religious backgrounds.
One of those who was excused today, a middle-aged man in a Mud Hens jacket, said with a quavering voice that he was brought up a Catholic and is now a Baptist, but did not feel that he could set aside a reverence for priests that was ingrained in him during childhood.
Another middle-aged man was excused for an opposite bias toward the Roman
Catholic Church – he said he was raised Roman Catholic and converted to the Lutheran faith and has an animosity toward Catholicism and priests.
A Catholic man in his 20s, with long dark hair pulled into a ponytail, was excused after repeatedly saying that he could not sit in judgment of a priest. “I don’t think I could do it. I just feel wrong.”
When pressed, he told Mr. Mandros: “I just feel that the decision I make will affect me forever. It will always be with me.”
Of the 67 prospective jurors questioned, 21 were practicing Catholics, 2 said their families were Catholics but they are not, and 4 were former Catholics. There were six Lutherans, five Methodists, four Baptists, and several who said they were Christians who were not affiliated with denominations. Six said they had no religious beliefs, one said she was an atheist, and one was an agnostic. Some were excused before they discussed their religious beliefs.
Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates sat in the back row of the courtroom for part of the morning’s proceedings. An unidentified psychologist assisting the prosecution team occasionally passed them notes during the juror interviews.
Father Robinson, 68, a Toledo diocesan priest, faces a possible life sentence if convicted. He was arrested in April, 2004, and charged in the slaying of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl, who was strangled and then stabbed multiple times in the sacristy of Mercy Hospital’s chapel on Holy Saturday 26 years ago.
The case, believed to be the first U.S. trial of a Roman Catholic priest accused of murdering a nun, was reopened by cold-case investigators in December, 2003.
Father Robinson, wearing a clerical collar, sat quietly in court today, flanked by his team of four attorneys, and showed little emotion as the prospective jurors were interviewed.
Opening arguments have been pushed back from Thursday until Friday.