ROBINSON
Daniel Miller  /  AP
The Rev. Gerald Robinson looks over at one of his attorneys during his arraignment in Toledo, Ohio, on Friday.
updated 5/7/2004 2:42:38 PM ET 2004-05-07T18:42:38

A Roman Catholic priest accused of the ritualistic killing of a nun 24 years ago pleaded not guilty Friday to aggravated murder.

The Rev. Gerald Robinson, his hands resting on a chair as he stood during the brief arraignment hearing, is accused of the strangling and stabbing death of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl on Easter weekend 1980.

If convicted, Robinson could be sentenced to life in prison. The death penalty was not in effect in Ohio at the time of the killing, so he cannot get a death sentence.

“He’s holding up well, but I don’t want to talk about anything personal,” Robinson’s attorney, Alan Konop, said after the hearing. Robinson left the courtroom before reporters.

Robinson has been free on a $400,000 property bond raised by supporters. A pretrial hearing was set for May 24.

Robinson, long a suspect in the death of Pahl, 71, was arrested April 23. Pahl’s body was discovered in a chapel at Mercy Hospital, covered by an altar cloth. Investigators have described the killing as “ritualistic.”

Detectives have said the nun’s death involved some type of ceremony and that they believe Robinson acted alone.

Robinson was arrested after investigators analyzed blood patterns and concluded that the murder weapon was in his “control.” They have not identified the weapon or who owned it.

Investigators began to review the slaying after a woman contacted them alleging she was physically and sexually abused as a child by several priests, including Robinson, police said.

Three other people came forward after Robinson’s arrest claiming they were abused by priests in rituals years ago.

Authorities reopened the murder case in December based on information in a letter sent to prosecutors, but they have not said who sent the letter or what it contained.

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