The Rev. Gerald Robinson yesterday made his first appearance in Lucas County Common Pleas Court to face a charge accusing him of choking to death and stabbing a nun 24 years ago at Mercy Hospital.
John Thebes, an attorney for Father Robinson, entered a plea of not guilty to the sole count of aggravated murder.
Judge Patrick Foley continued the case to May 24 for a pretrial hearing.
If convicted, the semi-retired Roman Catholic priest could face life in prison with eligibility for parole after 20 years.
Father Robinson, 66, is accused of the April 5, 1980, murder of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl in a chapel at the hospital.
The 71-year-old nun was strangled and then stabbed up to 32 times in what investigators have called a ceremonial killing.
Father Robinson, dressed all in black except for a white clerical collar, stood with his defense team - Mr. Thebes, Alan Konop, and John Callahan - for the five-minute hearing.
The defendant and his attorneys entered the courtroom from an area adjoining the courtroom that is only accessible by the judge's staff and attorneys.
Judge Foley granted a request from Mr. Thebes to allow Father Robinson to waive his appearance at the next hearing.
In responding affirmatively to Judge Foley's questions on whether he was willing to waive his appearance, Father Robinson uttered several words - the only time he spoke during the proceeding.
Television, radio, and newspaper reporters and camera crews were kept in the courtroom while court deputies escorted Father Robinson into the private area and took him through a jury room into the main hallway.
The priest's brother and sister-in-law, Thomas and Barbara Robinson, were present in the courtroom for the hearing.
They left immediately afterward, joining Father Robinson as he left the courthouse.
The Robinsons were among the supporters and friends of Father Robinson who posted their own homes with the clerk of court for a property bond to secure the priest's release from jail.
His bond was set at $200,000 cash, but at least $400,000 in property equity was needed to post the bond.
The property bond was filed with the court on Monday, the same day the priest was indicted.
The case has been the subject of widespread and intense media attention, however, Mr. Konop said that no information about his client or the case would be discussed outside the courtroom.
"Through the course of this proceeding, there will be no statements coming from the defense counsel on any personal information concerning Father Robinson, nor will there be any statements regarding evidence in this case."
"The evidence in this case will be brought out only in court proceedings. That is very important to guaranteeing a fair trial for Father Robinson," Mr. Konop said after the arraignment.
Under Ohio law, prosecutors must disclose to defense attorneys evidence that investigators have collected in the case, including witness statements, police reports, coroner findings, photographs, and scientific and physical evidence.
Also, prosecutors must release any exculpatory evidence or information that is favorable to the case of Father Robinson.
Likewise, Father Robinson's attorneys must share with prosecutors any information they have about the case.
"We have got a long road to go down. It will come out step by step," Mr. Konop said.
Gary Cook, an assistant prosecutor who worked on the case with the Toledo police department's cold-case unit, said the agenda for the next hearing likely would include establishing a trial date and deadlines for filing motions.
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