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Published: Friday, 5/12/2006

Some urge prosecutor to dig deeper into case

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates. Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates.
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Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates declined to say yesterday whether the conviction of Gerald Robinson could lead to obstruction charges against other members of the Toledo Catholic Diocese in the slaying of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl.

Cold-case investigators probing the 26-year-old homicide have said they believe some local Catholic officials misled them in 2004 during their reopened investigation into the 71-year-old nun's death on April 5, 1980.

While the prosecutor would not discuss the matter, some in the community are calling on her office to delve deeper into the case.

"It would be a serious abrogation of Julia Bates' responsibility to turn away," said the Rev. Stephen Stanbery, a pastor at two Henry County parishes and a vocal critic of the diocese's handling of sex-abuse cases. "There is an impression that [Mrs. Bates] will turn the other way for fear of Catholic anger. That simply isn't right," he said.

Mrs. Bates, who said during a press conference that this case was not about the church but about a man who killed a woman, could not be reached yesterday to respond to Father Stanbery's comments.

Davison Davison
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But Dean Mandros, an assistant who led the criminal prosecution in the Robinson case, pointed out his boss had already demonstrated with the conviction of the priest her willingness to take on the church.

"Mrs. Bates had a lot of courage," he said at the same press conference. "The Catholic Church is an institution - it's something that you're not anxious to necessarily be on the other side of."

At issue are the 145 pages of documents that investigators seized from the diocese's downtown headquarters in 2004 after marching into the building unannounced with a search order. Court documents unsealed last year showed that during the unprecedented police search, investigators said they were looking for evidence of "obstructing justice" in their search for "secret files" that might lead to information about Robinson.

Yesterday, Toledo Police Sgt. Steve Forrester declined to say what information was included in those documents. "We're trying to stay away from beating the church up, especially today," he said. "Today's not the day to open that can of worms."

A 2002 agreement signed by then-Bishop James Hoffman and Mrs. Bates stated that the diocese "will provide the prosecutor with information regarding allegations involving a priest, deacon, member of a religious community, volunteer, or other authorized representative of the diocese."

Yet court affidavits obtained by The Blade indicate that the prosecutor's office entered the diocesan building without informing Catholic leaders in advance because investigators had only received three pages of "bare-bones" information about the Robinson matter when they asked in 2004. The surprise search led to tension between investigators and diocesan representatives.

Investigators at the time believed that the diocese must have more information about the murder case, partly because canon law dictates that the diocese investigate allegations of crimes committed by clerics and preserve those records.

Dave Davison, one of the Toledo police officers on the scene at the 1980 murder, said yesterday he would like to see an investigation into the diocese and the department he's now retired from.

"This is long overdue and a big surprise," Mr. Davison said of the verdict. "I've lost a lot of faith in people, and I thought sure as hell that at least one juror would hold out; so I was in shock. For 26 years, I've been telling people the diocese and my department covered this up.

"If you look at what convicted him, it was what they had for 26 years," he said. "I hope somebody looks into this and they don't let it go." He said he asked the police to look into the case again after he retired in 1990 as a result of a disability. Mr. Davison said supplemental reports he filed, which included witness statements, were among the missing paperwork that came into question at trial.

Sister Margaret Ann's niece, Marilyn Duvall, said anyone who possibly concealed information or tried to impede the investigation should be charged. Ms. Duvall, who lives just outside Nashville, Ind., said in a phone interview yesterday she "absolutely" favors investigating those kind of charges.

Claudia Vercellotti, co-coordinator of the local Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said yesterday that the lack of cooperation by the diocese confirms, in her opinion, "a culture of cover-up." She said that the diocese must answer to the community and that the actions of church leaders underscore the need for protective legislation to protect children from potential clerical abuse.

"In the survivor community, we feel like, 'If you'll cover a murder investigation, what real hope will a sexual abuse survivor ever have?'‚óŹ" she said. "The Toledo Catholic Diocese had the most information in their hands and they did the least with it. In fact, they went out of their way to hide information."

Diocese spokesman Sally Oberski said yesterday that the church has no comments on calls for further charges. She said additional charges are "purely speculative at this point."

But Jack Sparagowski, a former parishioner and longtime friend of Robinson, said he believes that the investigation into Sister Margaret Ann's death - including allegations of a cover-up by the diocese - should continue. "I believe an investigation should be pursued, I really do," he said.

Blade staff writers Clyde Hughes, Ignazio Messina, and David Yonke contributed to this report.

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-724-6076.



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