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Published: Tuesday, 5/2/2006

Nun's killer used occult symbols, church expert in rituals testifies

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR

A Roman Catholic priest who is an expert in church rituals and the occult testified in the Rev. Gerald Robinson's murder trial yesterday that there were so many occult symbols surrounding Sister Margaret Ann Pahl's murder that he believes "these aren't random acts" but point to a ritual killing designed to mock the victim, the church, and God.

There will be no testimony today in the trial, which is scheduled to resume tomorrow in Judge Thomas Osowik's court.

The Rev. Jeffrey Grob, associate vicar for canonical services for the Archdiocese of Chicago, said after studying the case he believes the killer had "professional knowledge" of church rituals.

"A religious sister would have such knowledge. Certainly a priest would have such knowledge. Possibly a seminarian," said Father Grob, who also is assistant to the exorcist for the 2.3-million-member Chicago archdiocese.

Also yesterday, the 16 jurors viewed a 90-minute video of a police interrogation of Father Robinson after his arrest and Toledo police Detective Steve Forrester testified how and why the Lucas County cold-case unit focused its efforts on Father Robinson when the case was reopened in December, 2003.

Assistant prosecutor Dean Mandros shows the suspected murder weapon displayed on the altar cloth and the matching blood stain to the jury in Lucas County Common Pleas Court.
Assistant prosecutor Dean Mandros shows the suspected murder weapon displayed on the altar cloth and the matching blood stain to the jury in Lucas County Common Pleas Court.
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Sister Margaret Ann's body was found in the sacristy of the chapel at the former Mercy Hospital, now a college, on April 5, 1980 - Holy Saturday morning.

The 71-year-old Sister of Mercy nun had been choked to the verge of death, placed on the terrazzo floor, covered with an altar cloth, and stabbed nine times over the heart. The puncture wounds through the cloth and into her chest formed a near-perfect shape of an upside-down cross, police testified. The killer stabbed the nun another 22 times in the face, neck, and chest, then rolled her dress up over her chest and pulled her undergarments down to her ankles.

Father Robinson, 68, is on trial for murder in Lucas County Common Pleas Court trial. He maintains his innocence.

When Chris Anderson, assistant Lucas County prosecutor, asked Father Grob to explain the occult symbols surrounding the murder, the priest replied, "Where does one begin?"

Detective Steve Forrester explains why the cold-case squad focuses on the Rev. Gerald Robinson as a suspect.
Detective Steve Forrester explains why the cold-case squad focuses on the Rev. Gerald Robinson as a suspect.
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Wearing his clerical garb, Father Grob cited such aspects as the place and time of the murder, the use of an altar cloth to cover the body, the stab wounds shaped like an inverted cross, and the purity of the victim.

"You're taking someone that's dedicated to God, and every aspect that you can, you're violating," he said of Sister Margaret Ann's brutal murder.

"We're talking about a woman who had consecrated her life to God, who was the bride of Christ, who was, I presume, in a virginal state, forsaking all others, to be so degraded and violated."

The murder took place during the holiest time of year on the Christian calendar, in a room where the Blessed Sacrament, which Catholics consider the literal body of Christ, is kept between Good Friday and Easter.

The altar cloth is normally used to cover the Altar of Sacrifice, an altar over which the priest consecrates the bread and wine to become the body and blood of Christ.

Father Grob said after looking at crime-scene photos, he believes the killer also used Sister Margaret Ann's blood to make the sign of the cross on the victim's forehead.

The stab wounds over her heart in the shape of an inverted cross convey two meanings, Father Grob said.

One, it represents the death of St. Peter, whom Catholics consider the first pope and who was crucified on an upside down cross. Second, he said, "That image has been usurped and is used in Satanic worship and is an affront against the sacred. It's a reversal. They take something that's sacred and turn it upside down, literally. It defiles the very thing that is sacred."

Each of these aspects of the murder, if taken separately, could possibly be explained away, Father Grob said. But "the nature of ritual ... is the conglomerate, putting all of those things together."

John Thebes, one of Father Robinson's four defense attorneys, asked the priest if he had ever been to another crime scene. Father Grob said he had not. Mr. Thebes also pointed out that forensic investigator Henry Lee testified Thursday that the 31 stab wounds indicated a "frenzy" killing.

In 1980, Father Robinson told police during an interrogation that another man confessed to him that he had killed Sister Margaret Ann. Father Robinson later admitted that he had lied about the confession.

Father Grob said the seal of confession is held so sacred by the Catholic Church that a priest who reveals anything told to him by a penitent is automatically excommunicated. Mr. Thebes asked if a church court might consider mitigating circumstances, such as being under stress during an interrogation, and Father Grob, also a canon lawyer, said that was possible.

The videotape of Father Robinson's interrogation was made in Toledo police's Scott Park station, next door to the priest's Nebraska Avenue home, the evening of his arrest, April 23, 2004. Father Robinson, who was a chaplain at Mercy Hospital at the time of the murder, told Detective Tom Ross that he had just gotten out of the shower when he received a call telling him that Sister Margaret Ann had been killed in the sacristy.

The priest said he put on his clerical cassock and collar and "walked quickly" to the sacristy, where Sister Margaret Ann's body was still lying. He said the Rev. Jerome Swiatecki, Mercy Hospital's other Catholic chaplain at the time, immediately confronted him in front of the other nuns and asked him why he killed the sister.

Father Robinson told the detective he was shocked and did not have a response, and that afterward he never discussed it with Father Swiatecki, who died in 1996.

During the interrogation, Father Robinson said he did not have a key to the sacristy but relied on the nuns to open it when necessary. He also said he kept the doors to his hospital apartment locked and that he never used a sword-shaped letter opener, allegedly used in the murder, but that it was a decorative gift he received from the Boy Scouts.

After Detective Ross left the interrogation room, Father Robinson buried his face in his hands and whispered, "Oh my Jesus."

When the detective returned and asked again about why he did not challenge Father Swiatecki's accusation, Father Robinson said: "I didn't respond normally like a person accused of murder would respond." He added that "I don't have that in me" to yell and scream in protest.

Contact David Yonke at:

dyonke@theblade.com

or 419-724-6154.



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