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With the last of his state appeals exhausted, Toledo priest Gerald Robinson intends to turn to U.S. District Court to try to get his murder conviction overturned.
The Ohio Supreme Court this week declined to review the case of Robinson, who was convicted in Lucas County Common Pleas Court in 2006 of the 1980 murder of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl at the former Mercy Hospital.
The high court, with Justices Paul Pfeifer and William O’Neill dissenting, said it would not hear the case.
Rick Kerger, attorney for Robinson, said he now will file a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in U.S. District Court.
“I never expected to win” at the state level, he said Friday. “I’ve always felt that if we’re going to win I knew it was going to be in federal court in a habeas proceeding.”
On Feb. 15, Ohio’s 6th District Court of Appeals affirmed the April, 2011, decision by Common Pleas Judge Gene Zmuda to deny Robinson’s petition for postconviction relief, which had asserted his constitutional rights were violated.
The appeals court rejected Robinson’s claims that prosecutors withheld key documents from defense attorneys and that defense attorneys failed to focus on a known serial killer as the more likely suspect in the death of Sister Margaret Ann.
The victim, who was a week shy of her 72nd birthday, was found in the sacristy of the former Mercy Hospital near downtown Toledo where she had been choked to the edge of death and stabbed 32 times in the neck, chest, and face.
Mr. Kerger said he believes his arguments could prevail at the federal level.
“I think there’s the ability to step back and not get caught up in the emotion of the case, a priest killing a nun,” he said, adding that he does not believe Robinson should have been prosecuted 20-some years after the homicide when witnesses were dead and evidence degraded or lost.
Unlike other cold cases that have been brought to trial, Mr. Kerger said, there was no DNA evidence that linked Robinson to the crime.