TOLEDO, Ohio — Whoever strangled and stabbed a Roman Catholic nun a day before Easter in 1980 had to know her, according to a police detective who oversaw the murder investigation 26 years ago.
“It would take someone with a very strong vendetta to kill someone in such a ferocious manner,” retired Lt. William Kina testified.
The Rev. Gerald Robinson, a hospital chaplain who worked closely with Sister Margaret Ann Pahl and presided over her funeral, is charged with killing her in the hospital’s chapel. Testimony in his trial was scheduled to resume Tuesday.
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Detectives began looking closely at Robinson, now 68, after two hospital workers said they heard footsteps in a hallway near his room around the time the nun was killed, Kina said. Investigators have said he was the only one who lived on that floor.
Pahl was stabbed 31 times, including nine wounds in the shape of an upside-down cross, authorities said. Prosecutors have said some of the wounds exactly match the diamond-shaped blade of a letter opener found in Robinson’s room.
The defense, however, said that many people had access to the chapel and suggested the wounds could have been caused by something else.
Police have suspected that the nun’s death was some kind of ritual slaying because of evidence found in the chapel and because the nun’s body was posed. Two nuns who were among the first people to see her body testified that her arms and legs were straight.
“People don’t usually die very straight,” said Sister Phyllis Ann Gerold, president of Mercy Hospital when Sister Pahl, 71, was killed.
“It was just such a strange scene,” said Sister Gerold, the prosecution’s first witness. “Strange the way her body was laid out, strange the way her clothes were arranged.”
Sister Madelyn Marie Gordon, the chapel organist who found the body, said she went screaming from the sacristy after realizing that what she first thought was a mannequin used to teach resuscitation was in fact a body with the clothes pulled up to the waist.
“Her head was in alignment, it wasn’t to the side,” Sister Gordon said. “It looked like someone had placed her in that position.”
Sister Gordon testified under cross-examination that she had seen a man in work clothes in a hallway near the chapel before she went inside. She said it looked like the man “was in a big hurry.”
Sister Gerold testified that the victim’s 2-inch cross pin and watch were missing.
Robinson, 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.
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 document her allegations.