Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Support grows for charged priest

Legal fees sought in case of nun's slaying

By John Seewer
The Associated Press

TOLEDO - Parishioners and friends of a Roman Catholic priest charged with the 1980 killing of a nun began collecting money Monday to pay for his release from jail and legal bills.

The Rev. Gerald Robinson, appearing tired and unshaven, made an initial appearance but did not enter a plea to the murder charge Monday in Toledo Municipal Court. Judge Mary Trimboli set bond at $200,000.

Robinson, 66, was charged Friday with killing Sister Margaret Ann Pahl, who was strangled and stabbed about 30 times on Easter weekend in 1980. Her body was found in a hospital chapel, surrounded by lit candles with her arms folded across her chest.

Robinson later performed the funeral for the 71-year-old nun.

Robinson, wearing a brown jail jumpsuit, said nothing during the brief hearing. His lawyer, John Thebes, told the judge that his client was not a flight risk.

"He's not going anywhere. He hasn't gone anywhere in 24 years," Thebes said.

Members of St. Anthony church, where Robinson was a pastor after the nun's death, were setting up a legal defense fund for him. They said they were surprised anyone would accuse the priest of murder.

"I almost passed out," said Mary Ann Plewa, a distant cousin of the priest. "There's no way he could've done this. I'd have to hear it from his mouth."

Robinson's former secretary said he was dedicated to the church.

"If you needed a priest in the middle of the night to give someone their last rites, he was there," Bea Orlowski said.

Investigators re-examined the nun's killing after a woman told a Diocesan Review Board in June that she was sexually and physically abused as a child by Toledo diocesan and religious-order priests during her childhood.

Authorities said that while they could not substantiate the woman's allegations, her mention of Robinson spurred police to take another look at Sister Pahl's death. Robinson had always been a suspect in her death.

The woman, now in her 40s, described Satanic ceremonies.

Investigators reopened the case in December after the Lucas County Prosecutor's office received a letter, Assistant Prosecutor Gary Cook said Monday. He would not say who sent the letter or what it contained.

Investigators began looking through files and found old evidence that grabbed their attention.

The arrest warrant filed for Robinson said an "instrument with unique characteristics" associated with Sister Pahl's wounds was found in Robinson's possession after the murder. The report also said numerous cuts were made after she was dead.

Based on old evidence and technology that allowed investigators to analyze blood patterns, they concluded that the murder weapon, which was not identified, was "in the control of the suspect," police Detective Steve Forrester said.

The diocese said it did not turn over the woman's allegations to authorities because they had been made earlier and investigated.

The woman, though, was "told by the diocese that everything was turned over," to prosecutors, said Claudia Vercelloti, a director of the Toledo office for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

Vercelloti and a member of the review board said they did not think the diocese and the prosecutor's office were taking the woman's allegations seriously and met in October with officials at the state's Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation.

After that meeting, new information surfaced that was immediately forwarded to police and the prosecutor, said Kim Norris, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General's office.


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