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Published: Saturday, 2/21/2009

Gag order sought in priest's court case

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Robinson Robinson
THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON Enlarge | Buy This Photo

The Lucas County Prosecutor's Office has requested a gag order be put in place and all future filings be sealed while postconviction issues continue to be hashed out in the criminal case of a priest convicted of murdering a nun.

The motion came just weeks after Gerald Robinson's defense attorneys filed a lengthy postconviction motion that claims ineffective assistance of trial counsel and the failure of prosecutors to provide exculpatory information in their possession prior to trial.

Dean Mandros, chief of the prosecutor's criminal division, noted in a response filed late yesterday that one of the points raised by Robinson's appellate lawyers throughout the postconviction motion is "prejudicial pretrial publicity."

He also pointed out that on the day of filing an "amended petition for postconviction relief" on behalf of Robinson, one of his attorneys "hand-delivered a copy" to a Blade reporter and spent time discussing it.

The motion further stated that the attorney attempted to "seek out and groom the very newspaper reporter he argues is part of the reason that defendant's conviction should be reversed."

In response, attorneys Rick Kerger and John Donohue opposed the motion, saying that the case already has been through a jury trial and that "there is no likelihood that a jury is going to be impaneled to try this case any time soon."

The attorneys further noted that the "public is interested in this matter" and opposed closing off discussion of issues related to the state "simply because it might possibly prove embarrassing to the state."

Judge Gene Zmuda has not yet ruled on the motion, which would prevent those associated with the case from discussing it with the media.

Attorneys for both sides have declined to comment about the case pending Judge Zmuda's decision.

Robinson, 70, is serving a 15-year-to-life prison sentence in Hocking Correctional Facility in Nelsonville, Ohio. He was arrested by Lucas County cold-case investigators in April, 2004, and convicted in May, 2006, of the murder of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl.

According to evidence at the trial, the 71-year-old nun had been choked and then stabbed 31 times. Her partly naked body was found by another nun on the morning of April 5, 1980 - the day before Easter - on the floor of the sacristy, next to the chapel, of the former Mercy Hospital in Toledo.

Robinson, who retired in 2004 but is still a priest, is not eligible for parole until 2021.

Since the conviction, the case has been detailed in at least three books, numerous articles, and television news programs. Those involved in the case have spoken about it at national conferences.

Defense attorneys highlighted one of these conferences in their opposition to the gag order, saying that prosecutors' contention that "extrajudicial statements might prove troublesome is almost silly."

After learning in late December that the Ohio Supreme Court had declined to hear their appeal in the case, Robinson's attorneys reactivated a motion for postconviction relief that had been filed in January, 2008, but had been put on hold pending the outcome of the appellate process.

That motion is now pending before Judge Zmuda.

The case also will be submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court for consideration, Robinson's attorneys have said.

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-213-2134.



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