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Published: Saturday, 2/26/2005

Nun death probe data to be released

BY ROBIN ERB
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Documents supporting two police searches of the Toledo Catholic Diocese in the murder investigation of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl most likely will be released Monday.

The Lucas County Prosecutor's Office yesterday decided not to fight a decision by Common Pleas Judge Thomas Osowik Thursday to release the records, said Dean Mandross, a senior assistant prosecutor.

That means search warrant affidavits, possibly outlining why police felt they needed a court order to search the downtown church office on Sept. 15 and 17, may be released at 9 a.m. Monday.

Prosecutors were looking for any church records about the Rev. Gerald Robinson, who was charged in the slaying of the nun in the Mercy Hospital chapel 24 years ago.

Mr. Mandross said prosecutors originally fought The Blade's request to make the records public because they felt the newspaper made a procedural error in asking for them. But whether an appeals court agreed with the prosecutors' argument, the records most likely would have been released eventually, he said.

The Blade's attorney, Fritz Byers, argued for the documents based on federal public records law.

Detectives reopened the murder case in 2003 after they learned a 41-year-old woman, in unrelated allegations, claimed she had been sexually aswsaulted by several priests.

As part of her complaint, she accused Father Robinson of assaulting her once. Cold-case detectives - recognizing Father Robinson's name as a suspect from the 1980 homicide - decided to reopen the old murder case.

The priest's lawyer, Alan Konop, has declined to comment on the allegation, citing a gag order in the murder case. Father Robinson is scheduled for trial on Oct. 17.

During the first search of the downtown church headquarters, investigators took more than 100 documents bearing Father Robinson's name, but would not disclose the contents.

In the second search two days later, they did not find records about Father Robinson, but they found a file stamped "privileged" containing cases of child abuse allegations, said Thomas Pletz, a lawyer for the diocese. The records were not removed.

An advocacy group for victims of sexual abuse is now demanding that county prosecutors seize the file.

Toledo SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, sent a letter yesterday to prosecutors asking them to return to the diocese with a subpoena.

"We think the information contained in the files that were not seized could possibly unearth the magnitude of cover-up, concealment, and secrecy this diocese continues to operate under," said Claudia Vercellotti, coordinator of Toledo SNAP.

Prosecutor Julia Bates could not be reached, but John Weglian, chief of the prosecutor's special units division, said she had been informed of the SNAP's letter and not yet made a decision.

When the national sexual abuse crisis was unfolding in 2002, then-Bishop James R. Hoffman and Mrs. Bates signed an agreement the diocese "will provide the prosecutor with information regarding allegations involving a priest, deacon, member of a religious community, volunteer, or other authorized representative of the diocese."

Father Michael Billian, the Episcopal vicar and the diocese's top administrator, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

But Sally Oberski, diocese spokesman, said he informed her that prosecutors spent three days at the church offices searching through diocese documents as a result of the agreement.

"They literally went through every single file," she said.

Contact Robin Erb at:

robinerb@theblade.com

or 419-724-6133



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