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Published: Saturday, 5/6/2006

Police grilled on holes in probe of nun's killing

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR

Alan Konop, one of Father Robinson s four defense attorneys, pointed out that Leslie Kerner, a witness for the prosecution, testified Thursday in the Lucas County Common Pleas Court trial that on the morning of the murder she saw Father Robinson standing at the doors of the chapel in Mercy Hospital adjacent to the sacristy where the nun was slain.

Under questioning yesterday, Toledo police Sgt. Steve Forrester acknowledged that 1980 police reports based on interviews with Ms. Kerner made no mention of a priest.

Ms. Kerner and another witness for the prosecution testified in Judge Thomas Osowik s courtroom that they knew Father Robinson and that they saw him at or near the chapel around the time of the murder.

A third witness said he saw a man in a priest s garb matching Father Robinson s description leave the chapel carrying a duffel bag sometime after the slaying.

At the trial, retired Detective Arthur Marx holds the letter
opener that he found in the Rev. Gerald Robinson s desk.
At the trial, retired Detective Arthur Marx holds the letter opener that he found in the Rev. Gerald Robinson s desk.
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Father Robinson, 68, told police in 1980 and again in April, 2004, when he was arrested by Lucas County cold-case detectives, that he never left his residence in the hospital until he got a call telling him that Sister Margaret Ann had been killed.

The nun was choked nearly to death, then stabbed 31 times. The first nine stab wounds were made through an altar cloth over her heart in the shape of an upside-down cross in what police have described as a ritual killing.

Father Robinson, who was placed on leave after his arrest, maintains his innocence. If convicted, he faces a possible sentence of life in prison.

Mr. Konop yesterday asked retired Toledo police Sgt. Arthur Marx, who was in charge of the original investigation, what happened to reports he made after interviewing Father Robinson and another hospital chaplain, the Rev. Jerome Swiatecki, about two weeks after the murder.

Sergeant Marx, who testified for 2 hours yesterday, said the reports he filed are unavailable and that he has no idea what happened to them.

Under cross-examination, Sergeant Marx suggested a possible church-related cover-up in the case.

He said police reports in 1980 were filled out in color-coded triplicate the white copy going to the police records section, the pink to the departmental office, and the yellow to the investigating officer.

Deputy Police Chief Ray Vetter, who retired in 1986, required all copies of reports about Sister Margaret Ann Pahl to be turned over to him, Sergeant Marx testified.

The sergeant also said that the second time he interviewed Father Robinson in the police Safety Building, on April 19, 1980, Deputy Chief Vetter and Msgr. Jerome Schmit of the Toledo Catholic Diocese knocked on the door of the interview room, met with Father Robinson, and promptly left with the priest, cutting the interview short.

To your knowledge, the last person that had [the interview reports] was Deputy Chief Vetter? asked Dean Mandros, chief of the criminal division of the Lucas County Prosecutor s Office, in a cross-examination.

To my knowledge, yes, Sergeant Marx replied.

And is this the individual who brought Monsignor Schmit and interrupted your interview with the defendant? Mr. Mandros asked.

Same person, yes, Sergeant Marx responded.

Deputy Chief Vetter do you know if he s Catholic or not? Mr. Mandros asked.

Yes, Sergeant Marx said. A very strict Catholic.

The jury trial, believed to be the first time a Roman Catholic priest is being tried for the murder of a Roman Catholic nun, began April 21 and has included testimony from 30 prosecution witnesses, including noted forensic investigator Henry Lee of Meriden, Conn.

Yesterday, Mr. Konop questioned retired Toledo police Detective Dan Foster about reports that he made in 1980 after interviewing Dr. Jack Baron, a Mercy medical resident who rushed to the chapel after an 8:20 a.m. Mr. Swift code call was announced, meaning someone was in urgent need of medical help.

Dr. Baron testified Thursday that he went down two flights of stairs, then made a wrong turn looking for the chapel and passed a priest in the hallway. In 1980, Detective Foster interviewed Dr. Baron, and his report makes no reference to a wrong turn or a priest.

Mr. Konop asked retired Toledo police Detective David Weinbrecht about a 1980 report he filed that said a pair of scissors was missing from the chapel. The report said informal tests of the scissors showed that they could have been used in the nun s slaying.

But Detective Weinbrecht pointed to another sentence in the report that said Lucas County s deputy coroner concluded that the wounds on the victim s face were made by a weapon sharper than scissors.

The prosecution asserts that Sister Margaret Ann was stabbed with a saber-shaped letter opener police found in Father Robinson s apartment.

Detective Weinbrecht also mentioned that he found a bottle of Valium from the Mercy pharmacy dated the day of the murder in Father Robinson s apartment when he searched it April 21, 1980.

Tom Ross, an investigator for the Lucas County prosecutor s office, also testified briefly yesterday. He was asked about a 1980 search warrant in which police seized a pair of shoes, the bottle of Valium, and a cassock from Father Robinson s residence.

Mr. Ross said the report states that Father Robinson complained it was the only cassock he owned and that he would not have any vestments for the next service he had to conduct.

A stain on the cassock was examined as possible evidence but turned out to be innocuous. Mr. Ross said that according to Father Robinson, it was a gravy stain.

The trial is to continue Monday with four to six defense witnesses, including Kathleen Reichs, a forensic anthropologist from Charlotte, N.C. The case could go to the jury as early as Tuesday, officials said.

Contact David Yonke at: dyonke@theblade.com or 419-724-6154.



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