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Published: Sunday, 2/20/2005

Renowned expert assesses evidence from slaying

BY MITCH WEISS AND MICHAEL D. SALLAH
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

When nationally known forensic expert Henry Lee was hired recently to examine evidence in the murder case of the Rev. Gerald Robinson, the crime expert's first stop was the murder scene: the Mercy Hospital chapel.

He snapped photographs of the sacristy room and tested the floor with new chemical enhancement for blood remnants from the 1980 slaying. He examined the old crime scene photos and studied the letter opener believed to be the murder weapon.

While police have expanded their investigation into the death of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl by looking into allegations of ritual sex abuse, the murder case still rests largely on physical evidence, prosecutors say.

Mr. Lee, who has assisted police around the country in more than 6,000 investigations, traveled to Toledo in December to visit the 11-by-17-foot sacristy room in what's now a nursing facility.

"With new technology, you can do so much more," he told The Blade.

The former chief of the Connecticut State Police crime lab is being asked to evaluate several pieces of evidence tied to the crime, including:

  • A letter opener taken from the priest's quarters at the hospital after the murder.

  • Blood stains on an altar cloth and other objects in the chapel, including specific patterns of the stains.

  • The pattern of about 30 stab wounds on Sister Pahl's face, neck, and torso.

  • DNA samples of the nun's body, which was exhumed last year.

    In addition to the crime scene, police have reviewed tape-recorded interviews with Father Robinson in the days after the killing and before his lawyer ordered him to stop talking to investigators, police said.

    Police are still calling the death of the 71-year-old nun a "ritual" killing because of the circumstances surrounding the crime, including the way her body was found: lying face up with an altar cloth draped over her torso, her body posed to appear like she was sexually assaulted.

    Mr. Lee, who studied the autopsy and police reports, said Sister Pahl appeared to have been attacked from behind, her killer strangling her until she was unconscious. While on the floor and still breathing, she was stabbed in the face, neck, and through the altar cloth covering her upper body.

    He said the assailant made a deliberate "pattern in the stab wounds," possibly resembling a cross, but declined to give further details.

    "What we do is look at everything, the pattern, the marks left by the weapon,'' said Mr. Lee, who has testified in several high-profile cases, including the O.J. Simpson murder trial in 1995.

    Two people recently interviewed by police said investigators were comparing the pattern of the wounds to a cross.

    "They wanted to know about the shapes of older crosses used by the church in the past," said the Rev. Stephen Stanbery, a pastor in the Toledo diocese.

    Local priests recently interviewed by police said investigators are trying to determine if a cross actually was placed over the altar cloth and the killer stabbed her along its outline.

    Detectives also have been interviewing local clerics about a second possible weapon - a stylus, a sharp instrument used by priests to carve crosses into the Pascal candle during Holy Saturday services - that may have been used the day Sister Pahl was killed.

    Contact Mitch Weiss at: mweiss@theblade.com or 419-724-6259.



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