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Published: Thursday, 4/20/2006

Final jury selections today in priest's trial

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR
Judge Thomas Osowik sided with defense attorneys who argued that a prospective juror ought to be dismissed because of anti-Catholic statements that she made. Judge Thomas Osowik sided with defense attorneys who argued that a prospective juror ought to be dismissed because of anti-Catholic statements that she made.
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Opening arguments are set to begin tomorrow morning in the high-profile murder trial of the Rev. Gerald Robinson, accused of killing a Toledo nun on Holy Saturday, 1980.

Lucas County Common Pleas Court Judge Thomas Osowik and prosecution and defense attorneys are scheduled to make their final jury selections today, picking 12 jurors and four alternates for a trial that is expected to last three to four weeks.

After opening arguments, the jury is scheduled to travel to the former Mercy Hospital, now a college, and its sacristy, where the murder took place. They also will visit the apartment in the hospital annex where Father Robinson, then Mercy's chaplain, lived.

The first phase of jury selection took three days as 85 people were individually interviewed. Of the 99 in the original jury pool, 28 were excused, mostly for financial concerns over being away from work for up to a month.

In a rare occurrence, a husband and wife were both in the juror pool. They told the court it would be difficult to obey the judge's instructions not to discuss the case with anyone - including one another. The wife was excused.

The Rev. Gerald Robinson, left, listens as attorneys Nichole Khoury and Alan Konop talk during jury selection. The Rev. Gerald Robinson, left, listens as attorneys Nichole Khoury and Alan Konop talk during jury selection.
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A total of four people were dismissed because of their strong feelings - both pro and con - toward the Roman Catholic Church and its clergy.

Yesterday, one woman was dismissed after she said the Catholic Church "has gotten off too easy" in regard to clerical sexual abuse of children. She later asserted that she could be impartial because it is a murder trial, not a molestation case.

Father Robinson's defense attorneys asked the judge to dismiss her based on her anti-Catholic statements. When the judge concurred, it sparked a brief but heated exchange with assistant Lucas County prosecutor Dean Mandros.

Mr. Mandros cited the woman's assertion that she could be fair and impartial, but the judge slammed his hand on the bench and said sternly, "I've had it! That's my ruling."

After yesterday's final juror interview, another dispute flared over a seemingly simple matter: the order in which prospective jurors will be seated for today's final round.

The prosecution asked for Judge Osowik to assign new, randomly selected numbers to each of the 59 remaining in the pool. The attorneys cited rulings by the Ohio Supreme Court requiring each prospective juror to have an equal chance of being selected.

Assistant prosecutor Larry Kiroff argued that the defense's resistance to new numbers was a courtroom "strategy" seeking to "stack the deck" toward a jury favoring the defendant.

Alan Konop, one of Father Robinson's four defense attorneys, called that claim "preposterous" and "insulting."

"The randomness has taken place. The cross section is here. There is nothing in the rules to contemplate multiple shuffles," Mr. Konop said.

Judge Osowik sided with Mr. Konop, saying the request for random numbers could be taken "to the point of absurdity."

As it stands, there will be 24 jurors seated in Courtroom 5 this morning while the rest wait in another room. If the judge and attorneys cannot pick 16 people out of the first group, they will then call in members of the second group.

Based on courtroom interviews, 11 of the first 24 prospective jurors, or 46 percent, are either practicing Catholics or married to a Catholic. In the second group, nine of 35, or 26 percent, are Catholic.

Whether the juror numbers are shuffled could potentially affect how many Catholics serve in the jury for what is believed to be the first U.S. murder trial of a Roman Catholic priest accused of killing a Roman Catholic nun.

Potential jurors are called from the list of registered voters in Lucas County, where 106,463 of the 450,632 residents - roughly one-fourth - are Roman Catholic.

Prosecutors yesterday also objected to Father Robinson sitting at the defense table at an angle in which he is facing the jury, as he has done during the jury selection interviews. The judge agreed, saying the priest must face forward, toward the bench.

Psychologist Lucia Hinojosa sat in the courtroom during jury selection, handing notes to the prosecution team. Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates also sat in the courtroom for part of the sessions yesterday and Tuesday.

Father Robinson, 68, was arrested on April 23, 2004, and charged in the 1980 slaying of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl. Her body was found strangled and stabbed multiple times, her undergarments pulled down around her ankle, in the sacristy next to the chapel at Mercy Hospital.

If convicted, Father Robinson faces possible life in prison. He cannot face the death penalty because it was not in effect in Ohio at the time of the murder.

Contact David Yonke at:

dyonke@theblade.com

or 419-724-6154.



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