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Published: Wednesday, 5/10/2006

Priest's case likely to end up in jury's hands today

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR

More than 26 years after a nun was slain, a jury of 12 is expected to begin deliberating today over whether they believe a Roman Catholic priest was the killer.

The high-profile trial of the Rev. Gerald Robinson is scheduled for closing arguments this morning in Lucas County Common Pleas Court. Sometime between noon and 1 p.m., the fate of the 68-year-old priest is expected to be handed over to the seven women and five men on the jury.

Before closing arguments, however, the prosecution plans to call one rebuttal witness. Judge Thomas Osowik said the witness will be "extraordinarily brief," and prosecutors say the witness' court appearance is essentially a procedural matter.

Sister Margaret Ann Pahl, a Sister of Mercy nun who had served as chief executive officer and administrator of two northwest Ohio hospitals, was choked and stabbed in the sacristy of the former Mercy Hospital on April 5, 1980 - the day before Easter and the day before her 72nd birthday.

No arrests were made in the case until April 23, 2004, when Lucas County cold-case detectives interrogated Father Robinson at his home and then escorted him to the Toledo police Scott Park district station next door, where he was charged with murder.

The prosecution said in its opening statement April 21 that it would prove Father Robinson was the killer by producing evidence that would show he used his saber-shaped letter opener to stab Sister Margaret Ann 31 times.

The defense, meanwhile, contended in its opening statement that it would raise "reasonable doubt" about the state's circumstantial evidence by pointing out significant inconsistencies, discrepancies, and omissions.

Today's closing arguments are expected to last about two hours as each side reviews the court testimony and the evidence in ways that will connect the dots for jurors to make its case.

Judge Osowik said he will not ask jurors to deliberate past 8 p.m., and that if they have not reached a verdict by then they will go home - they will not be sequestered - and resume at 9 a.m. the next day.

Jurors were forbidden from taking notes during the trial and will not be allowed to read court transcripts during deliberations. They will, however, be able to review evidence introduced in court, including the letter opener, a bloodstained altar cloth, and a police videotape of a 2004 interrogation of Father Robinson.

All 12 jurors must be unanimous to reach a verdict.

If convicted, Father Robinson faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison and Judge Osowik could proceed to sentencing immediately.

Yesterday, Gina Veronica Patro, the office manager in the Lucas County Prosecutor's Office, said the trial has cost the county $36,167 so far.

Ms. Patro said costs included expert witnesses and their travel, testing of evidence, transcripts, and supplies.

That money has been paid out of the Law Enforcement Trust Fund, which is money from crime forfeitures.

Ms. Patro said less than $100 has been spent from the general operating fund on the trial.

County Court Administrator Jean Atkin said she has not tallied jury pay, parking costs, and security. She said that will not be done until after the trial has concluded. She said jurors were paid $20 a day and $30 a day after the 10th day of service.

Ms. Aktin said the county also is paying $3.25 a day each for 16 parking spaces for jurors.

Staff writer Clyde Hughes contributed to this report.

Contact David Yonke at:

dyonke@theblade.com

or 419-724-6154.



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