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Published: Thursday, 11/5/2009

Prosecutors fight relief move for priest

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Lucas County prosecutors are seeking to have Toledo priest Gerald Robinson's latest legal efforts dismissed, calling the convicted killer a "mythomaniac" who fabricates while failing to address constitutional issues as required by law.

The 71-year-old Toledo diocesan priest is serving a 15-years-to-life sentence at a southern Ohio prison after being convicted in 2006 for the brutal murder of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl in 1980.

Sister Margaret Ann, 71, was choked nearly to death and then was stabbed 31 times in the chest, neck, and face on April 5, 1980 - Holy Saturday - in the sacristy of the former Mercy Hospital.

Robinson's conviction was up-

held by the Ohio 6th District Court of Appeals, and both the Ohio and the U.S. Supreme Courts chose not to review the case.

His attorneys, John Donahue and Richard Kerger, are pursuing an amended petition for post-conviction relief, filed in Lucas County Common Pleas Court, where the original case was tried.

In August, they filed motions contending that their client did not receive a fair trial for numerous reasons, including ineffective legal counsel and the loss of key evidence and critical witnesses over the 26 years between the nun's murder and the trial.

On Monday, the state submitted its response to the amended petition and also asked Judge Gene Zmuda of Common Pleas Court to dismiss the case.

"The defendant has a right to pursue all his legal avenues of appeal and we intend to address all his issues, and the court will make its determination," Dean Mandros, chief of the criminal division of the Lucas County prosecutor's office, said yesterday.

Among Robinson's attorneys' arguments are that key documents from 1980 should have been introduced as evidence in his 2006 trial, that trial attorneys lacked a defense strategy and made "seat-of-pants" decisions, and that another priest, the Rev. Jerome Swiatecki, could have been the killer. The lawyers say "the evidence in this case was slim and the state knew it."

In response, Mr. Mandros said Robinson repeatedly misstates the record and makes up facts "as if repeating something often enough while clicking his heels will make it come true."

He cited the 6th District Court of Appeals' 95-page ruling that "the evidence of [Robinson's] guilt - including evidence showing that he was the person who committed the murder and that the instrument that he used to commit the murder was his sword-shaped letter opener - was very strong."

The state said the case was convincing enough that jurors needed only 6 1/2 hours to unanimously convict Robinson after three weeks of trial in which 39 witnesses testified and 217 exhibits were introduced.

It said the priest's latest arguments "are exactly those that the United States Supreme Court feared would be made by defendants desperately grasping at any reed to save themselves, no matter how thin."

Prosecutors said the amended petition fails to cite new evidence, instead referring to documents that were available to the priest and his defense team in 2006, but which attorneys chose not to introduce into evidence. It states that "petitioner admits this is so."

Mr. Donahue also asserted that the state lost or destroyed Robinson's oral statements to police in 1980, that measurements of the victim's stab wounds rule out Robinson's letter opener, that Father Swia-

tecki lacked an alibi for what the defense contends is the real timeline of the murder, and that prosecutors "relied upon the occult to prove guilt," which he said was reminiscent of the "infamous Salem Witch Trials of the 17th century."

The state criticized Robinson's new claims as "silly," "incredible," "scorched earth tactics," and "a fraud" showing that "there is no limit to what he will allege in his effort to literally get away with murder."

Contact David Yonke at:

dyonke@theblade.com

or 419-724-6154.



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