Ohio Priest Convicted In Nun's Death Loses Appeal

Published January 9, 2012 10:54PM (EST)

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — A Roman Catholic priest convicted of killing a nun inside an Ohio hospital chapel a day before Easter in 1980 won't get a new trial.

A judge ruled Monday that police reports discovered after the priest's trial didn't contain any new information that would have changed the outcome.

It has been more than five years since jurors convicted the Rev. Gerald Robinson of stabbing and strangling Sister Margaret Ann Pahl at Mercy Hospital in Toledo where both worked. The stab wounds on Pahl's chest were in the shape of an upside down cross and blood was smeared on her forehead, investigators said.

Robinson was the hospital chaplain and presided at the nun's funeral. He emerged as a suspect when police found a sword-shaped letter opener in his desk drawer two weeks after the killing. But he wasn't charged until 24 years later after investigators reopened the case.

Now 73, he remains a priest but has been barred from ministry, and is serving a sentence of 15 years to life in prison.

Church historians say it's the only documented case of a Catholic priest killing a nun.

The priest's attorneys in May tried to convince Lucas County Judge Gene Zmuda that a now-deceased serial killer could have been the one who stabbed and strangled the nun. They pointed to police reports showing that six people saw a mysterious black man near the hospital chapel where Pahl was killed. They said descriptions of the man were similar to that of a confessed serial killer who lived in nearby Michigan.

Prosecutors dismissed the theory, saying the priest's original attorneys didn't think there was a connection. They also said evidence against the priest was overwhelming, pointing out that Robinson had the letter opener in his possession and that he lied about where he was the morning of the killing.

Defense attorneys argued Robinson's constitutional rights to a fair trial were violated in part because of the discovery of 136 police reports three years after he was convicted. The county prosecutor's office said the reports were misfiled.

Robinson's attorney Richard Kerger said he plans to appeal the judge's decision.

Prosecutors have never clearly stated a motive in the slaying, only suggesting that the priest and nun did not get along and that he grew angry with her because she was strict and dominating.

By Salon Staff

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