- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 11, 2006

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — A priest was convicted yesterday of stabbing a Roman Catholic nun to death as she prepared for Easter services at a hospital 26 years ago, a murder that prosecutors say was steeped in religious ritual.

Prosecutors suggested that the Rev. Gerald Robinson had a strained relationship with the nun, a taskmaster, and that he reached a breaking point that day.

Sister Margaret Ann Pahl was stabbed 31 times through an altar cloth, with the punctures forming an upside-down cross, and her killer then anointed her with a smudge of her blood on the forehead to humiliate her in death, prosecutors said.

Robinson, now 68, had worked closely with Sister Pahl at the Mercy Hospital chapel, where her body was discovered April 5, 1980.

He had been an early suspect, but he was not charged until two years ago. His attorneys argued that the nun’s underwear and fingernails had traces of DNA that wasn’t from Robinson, and that there were no witnesses to place him at the scene of the crime.

Robinson, who wore his priest’s collar throughout the trial, had no visible reaction as the verdict was read.

Judge Thomas Osowik sentenced Robinson to the mandatory term of 15 years to life in prison, and a courtroom deputy handcuffed the priest and led him away.

“Let us hope that the conclusion of the trial will bring some measure of healing for all those affected by the case, as well as for our local church,” said Leonard Blair, bishop of the Toledo Diocese. “The diocese has remained steadfast in the work of the church and its ministries throughout this trial, and will continue to do so.”

Robinson’s status is that of a retired priest, Bishop Blair said, and he continues to be barred from public ministry.

The jury deliberated for six hours after nine days of testimony during which witnesses linked a sword-shaped letter opener found in Robinson’s room with the nun’s wounds and blood stains found on the altar cloth that covered her body.

The case relied heavily on forensic evidence because prosecutors presented no direct evidence that Robinson killed Sister Pahl, the caretaker of the hospital chapel.

Two forensic experts testified that a dime-sized medallion on the letter opener with the image of the U.S. Capitol appeared to be the source of a faint stain on the altar cloth.

In a videotaped interview with police just after he was arrested in April 2004, Robinson said he was stunned when he walked into the chapel and the hospital’s other chaplain accused him of murder.

Jurors watched the tape during the trial and saw how Robinson, left alone in a small room for a few minutes, folded his hands and began to speak in a barely audible voice. He whispered the word “sister” and then prayed again with his head bowed, at one point saying, “Oh my Jesus.”

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