Nun testifies during priest’s trial

By John Seewer The Associated Press

TOLEDO – The body of a nun found strangled and stabbed to death in a hospital chapel appeared to have been displayed in a ritualistic fashion, her arms and legs straight and no sign of blood, a fellow nun testified yesterday at the murder trial of a priest accused of the 1980 killing.

“People don’t usually die very straight,” said Sister Phyllis Ann Gerold, who was president of Mercy Hospital when Sister Margaret Ann Pahl was killed.

Gerold, testifying at the murder trial of Rev. Gerald Robinson, said she was eating breakfast when she heard screaming from the hospital chapel on the day before Easter. Inside the chapel, she found two or three other Roman Catholic nuns and Pahl’s body.

“The horror of it,” Gerold told the court yesterday when asked her first impression. “I think it was the weirdness of it and that she needed to be saved and then the afterthought is, ‘Why the ritualistic kind of layout of a dead body,’ once I learned she was dead.”

Pahl was stabbed 31 times, including nine wounds in the shape of an upside down cross, authorities said.

Prosecutors have said some of the wounds exactly match the diamond-shaped blade of a letter opener found in Robinson’s room.

However, the defense, noted yesterday that many people had access to the chapel and suggested the wounds could have been caused by something else.

Under cross-examination, Gerold testified that the sisters discovered after the slaying that the victim’s 2-inch cross pin and watch, as well as a pair of scissors, were missing. She also said she used “ritualistic” as a general term. “It was not a natural pose,” she said.

Police have suspected the nun’s death was some kind of ritual slaying because of evidence found in the chapel and because the nun’s body was posed as if she had been sexually assaulted, even though investigators say she wasn’t.

Using a mannequin in the courtroom yesterday, the prosecutor asked Gerold to describe how she found the victim. He arranged the arms as she explained and asked about the position of the head.