Priest awaits jury selection for trial

By John Seewer The Associated Press

TOLEDO – Attorneys prosecuting a priest accused of killing a nun in a hospital chapel over Easter weekend 26 years ago tried to find jurors yesterday who could believe a reverend is capable of a brutal crime.

Most of the questions of the first day of jury selection centered on the potential jurors’ religious beliefs and thoughts about the Roman Catholic Church.

The Rev. Gerald Robinson, 68, is accused of strangling and stabbing Sister Margaret Ann Pahl at the hospital where they worked. The priest presided at Pahl’s funeral Mass four days after her death.

Investigators have not disclosed a motive but said it may have been some kind of ritual slaying because of evidence found in the chapel and because Pahl’s body was posed to look as though she had been sexually assaulted even though she wasn’t.

Potential jurors also were asked whether they have opinions on sexual molestation charges against clergy members in the Catholic Church. Two prospective jurors said they doubted a priest could kill a nun.

“Killing is a cardinal sin,” one woman said. “Killing a nun would be beyond that.”

Nine of the first 10 potential jurors questioned were either Catholic or raised in the church. A quarter of Toledo’s 300,000 residents are Catholic.

About 100 potential jurors were to be questioned.

Robinson sat passively during the questioning, closing his eyes periodically or whispering to his lawyers. He did chuckle when one prospective juror said she could give up reading the newspaper during the trial as long as she could still read “Garfield” comic strips.

He wore a black suit and white priest’s collar. Although he has been placed on leave by the Catholic Diocese in Toledo, he still has permission to wear his collar.

The trial will at times resemble a modern TV drama, with forensic evidence playing a starring role.

Among those expected to testify are a medical examiner who has written a book on bloodstains and a forensic anthropologist who looks at human remains to investigate crimes. The anthropologist is a best-selling mystery author and the inspiration behind Fox’s crime show “Bones.”

The case will lean heavily on forensic evidence because there were no witnesses to the crime and it happened so long ago.

Investigators who reopened the murder case after two decades say they found bloodstains on an altar cloth that matched those from a sword-shaped letter opener found in Robinson’s room. They said the stains were created when the letter opener was laid down.

They also exhumed the nun’s body two years ago and gathered DNA samples.

Prosecutors also plan to use Robinson’s statements made to police, including a claim that someone else had confessed to killing the woman. He later acknowledged making that up, according to an investigator’s testimony earlier this year.

Robinson was questioned by police twice in the weeks after the killing. Police said he was a suspect because he was near the chapel when the body of Sister Margaret Ann, 71, was found by another nun.

Investigators reopened the murder case in 2003 after the prosecutor’s office received a letter about a woman’s claims that she was molested by priests for years as a child. Among the names she mentioned was Robinson. Police were unable to substantiate her allegations of sexual abuse.

Investigators arrested Robinson in 2004 after the priest told them that the letter opener belonged to him.