A 68-year-old Catholic priest goes on trial Monday in the stabbing death of a nun whose body was found covered by an altar cloth in a chapel 26 years ago.
The Rev. Gerald Robinson, charged with murder and facing a possible sentence of life in jail if convicted, has been on leave from his priestly duties since his arrest in 2004. He has pleaded not guilty.
The crime occurred in a hospital chapel in downtown Toledo on Saturday of Easter week in 1980. Investigators said the nun, Margaret Ann Pahl, 71, was strangled and then stabbed up to 32 times.
The investigation initially centered on Robinson, the hospital’s chaplain and a priest of the Toledo Catholic Diocese. He was not charged at the time and presided over Pahl’s funeral Mass.
Police reopened the case in 2003 and arrested Robinson in April 2004. The cold case squad said it suspected that blood spatters left at the crime scene matched a letter opener in Robinson’s possession.
After his arrest investigators said they believed a “ceremony” had taken place inside the chapel in conjunction with the slaying but did not elaborate. Robinson is the only one who has been charged.
Several events led to the case being reopened. In June 2003, an unidentified woman went to the Toledo Diocese seeking reimbursement for her therapy. She presented officials there with a letter claiming she was a childhood victim of clerical sexual abuse by Robinson, according to the Toledo Blade, which obtained a copy of the letter.
The woman claimed to be the victim of Satanic ritualistic sexual abuse perpetrated by a number of priests who were involved in a cult, the newspaper said.
Prosecutors said they were unaware of the letter until after the woman who wrote it gave a copy to Claudia Vercellotti, a Toledo leader of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests.
Vercellotti forwarded it to the Ohio attorney general’s office in September 2003, saying she thought church officials were not moving on it. The state office in turn sent the letter to Lucas County prosecutors, causing them to reopen the case in December of that year.
Police have said they asked the diocese to voluntarily surrender all documents in Robinson’s file but only got three pages.
In September 2004, the diocese was served with a warrant and surrendered over 100 documents. The diocese has consistently refused to discuss the case, citing a court gag order.
Robinson has not faced any criminal charges of sexual abuse.
Prosecutors expect the murder trial in Lucas County Circuit Court to last from three to four weeks.