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Published: Friday, 4/28/2006

Nun upset at priest day before she was murdered


A retired Mercy Hospital housekeeper testified today that Sister Margaret Ann Pahl was so upset over the way the Rev. Gerald Robinson celebrated Good Friday Mass on April 4, 1980, that the nun clutched her hand and said, "Why do they cheat God from what belongs to him?"

Father Robinson, 68, is on trial in Lucas County Common Pleas Court, charged in the murder of Sister Margaret Ann on Holy Saturday, 1980.

Shirley Ann Lucas, who cleaned the Sisters of Mercy convent on the seventh floor of the hospital, testified in Judge Thomas Osowik's court today that Sister Margaret Ann was a "very strict" nun who wanted things done a certain way.

The Reverend Gerald Robinson listens to testimony. The Reverend Gerald Robinson listens to testimony.
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Asked by Larry Kiroff, assistant Lucas County prosecutor, for an example, Ms. Lucas said the nun criticized her for throwing away small pieces of soap and toilet paper rolls with just a few pieces of paper left. Sister Margaret Ann showed her how she could wet the small soap bars and press them together to make a larger bar, Ms. Lucas said.

She brought some laughter to the courtroom when she said Sister Margaret Ann was playing opera music in the convent one day and asked Ms. Lucas what her favorite opera was.

"I made a big mistake by saying Elvis Presley's 'How Great Thou Art,'" Ms. Lucas said. "Sister was upset. She felt he was a little too wiggly.'"

Four other former Mercy Hospital employees also discussed about their recollections of the Holy Saturday morning 26 years ago.

Wardell Langston II, a former janitorial worker, said he heard footsteps around 7:30 a.m., shortly after the nun was slain, running across a hallway between the chapel and the hallway where Father Robinson lived.

Defense attorney John Thebes cross examines Elizabeth Benzinger, Labratory Director of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification & Investigation. Defense attorney John Thebes cross examines Elizabeth Benzinger, Labratory Director of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification & Investigation.
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Earlier, in a highly emotional testimony, another former housekeeper broke down when she saw the priest's sword-shaped letter opener that prosecutors claim was used to stab the Sister Margaret Ann 31 times.

Valerie Berning, a tall blonde women in a black outfit with animal-print lapels, said she cleaned Father Robinson's apartment two or three times during her nine years at Mercy.

Once, after the murder, she said she had a strange reaction when she saw the letter opener on top of the priest's desk.

"When I seen that letter opener, I just had bad feelings and I walked out of the room," Ms. Berning said in a shaky voice.

When Mr. Kiroff, assistant Lucas County prosecutor, showed her the nine-inch letter opener, now labeled state's exhibit No. 1, Ms. Berning began to cry.

Ms. Berning also said she had the unpleasant task of mopping up the blood in the sacristy hours after the crime. In addition to cleaning up a large pool of blood, she recalled cleaning the sacristy's sink but she was not sure exactly why. "Something in my mind tells me it was blood," she said.

Security guard Robert Wodarski testified that he saw the chapel doors open and its lights on shortly before 7 a.m. on the day of the killing. Another witness said yesterday that those doors were locked when she tried to enter to pray at 7 a.m.

Mr. Wodarski, who worked from midnight to 8 a.m., said the first time he ever saw Father Robinson, "I think we scared each other."

The priest was on the top floor of the parking garage sometime after midnight. "I asked him what he was doing up there and he said he was meditating," Mr. Wodarski said.

Audrey Garroway, a cafeteria worker, said she saw Sister Margaret Ann take a green tray from the cafeteria and leave to prepare the chapel for Holy Saturday services. The nun returned and said she would have a cup of coffee but did not have enough time for breakfast.

Several workers discussed tight security policies regarding keys at the former hospital.

The trial, expected to last three to four weeks, will resume Monday.

Read more in later editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com

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