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Published: Friday, 5/12/2006

News of priest's conviction satisfies some residents, disappoints others

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Harold Workman, who closely followed the trial of Catholic priest Gerald Robinson for the murder of a nun more than 26 years ago, was pleased yesterday that a religious vocation did not mean an automatic acquittal.

"A lady was killed, she was dehumanized in a ritualistic way, and someone should pay," said Mr. Workman, a maintenance worker at Toledo Hospital.

"I don't care if he has a collar. He was the only one in the area."

Reaction among the lunch crowd to the guilty verdict shortly before noon was mixed, but many people expressed satisfaction, even joy, when the decision against Robinson was announced.

Gyasi Pullum, a technician who works downtown, said he was not surprised by the verdict, even though the jury reached its decision in less than six and a half hours.

"You hear about a lot weirder things then a priest killing a nun," Mr. Pullum said. "Mothers kill their children, a priest can certainly kill someone."

Pat Heffern, who works at the Lucas County Auditor's office, said she, too, was not surprised, but she was disappointed.

"It's hard to believe a priest could be guilty of murder," said Ms. Heffern, who is Bulgarian Orthodox. "I'm sure they found the right verdict. I was just hoping he wasn't guilty, because you value your priests, which I do."

The jury's relatively quick jury verdict shocked Janelle Schaller, an attorney with the Toledo law firm Cooper & Walinski.

"It seemed like a tough case for the prosecution," she said. "I would think a jury would spend a lot longer on a murder trial."

Tim Duncan, a self-employed East Toledo resident, said he was suspicious of the guilty verdict partially because of "a lack of evidence" and also because the crime was committed 26 years ago.

"I thought it was going to be a hung jury because of the time factor," he said. "A lot of recollections dim after that many years. I also think the [letter opener] thing was pretty weak."

Prosecutors claimed Robinson choked and stabbed the nun to death with his saber-shaped letter opener on April 5, 1980, in the sacristy of Mercy Hospital.

There were no witnesses to place Robinson at the crime, although three witnesses said they saw him near the chapel shortly before or after the time of the murder.

Maumee resident Susan Martin was downtown yesterday running errands with her elderly mother. The two found themselves at the courthouse and decided to hear the verdict and see reactions firsthand.

"It was a fluke we were even here," Ms. Martin said. "I think it was up to the jury. They had all the facts, and now it's between Father Robinson and God."

Paulina Garcia Cleveland, who two years ago caused a disturbance during a gathering of supporters for Robinson, showed up at the courthouse yesterday praising the verdict.

"I've been praying all day," Ms. Garcia Cleveland said. "I'm so happy, because God wanted justice to be done."

In May, 2004, Ms. Garcia Cleveland infuriated the priest's supporters the same day he was released on bond. She got into an altercation with a man at the banquet hall they were meeting in and ultimately threw a pitcher of water at him because she said the man grabbed a doll of a nun she was carrying.

Yesterday, shortly after walking onto the courthouse grounds yelling, she was escorted off the property by security.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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