Did a Toledo priest ritualistically murder a nun inside a chapel on Good Friday twenty-six years ago? And if he did, what on earth did he think he was doing? A jury will soon have to answer the first question. But can they do it without answering the second?
I've heard references on Court TV to the ongoing trial of Rev. Gerald Robinson in Toledo, Ohio. The case of the murder of Sister Pahl is a crime that is without parallel outside The Da Vinci Code, a murder with an unfathomable motive.
I thought I'd better catch up on events to date on this seemingly unparallelled case, so here I share the results of my research....
Sister Maragaret Ann Pahl was described by a co-worker as "a most sweet and gentle person... witha really quiet sort of strength and a very peaceful demeanor. She was very, very loving." On Good Friday, in 1980, she was preparing for Holy Day Services in the sacristy of the Mercy Hospital chapel, a quiet place tucked away in the hospital, where she lived.
On the morning of her 72nd birthday, Sister Pahl was found by another nun -- murdered in the chapel. Her body was posed, covered by an altar cloth, and surrounded by burning candles. [NOTE: The burning candles were not present. This detail was an error in the reporting by the Toledo Blade.] She had been strangled and stabbed about 30 times.
Some hospital employees were quoted as saying that Father Gerald Robinson was one of the few people near the chapel at the time of the murder.
Robinson, who was born in Toledo and has given forty years of service to the Church, was the chaplain at the hospital. The priest presided at Pahl's funeral. He regularly spoke at St. Anthony's, http://www.stanthonytoledo.org/, an inner-city church founded in the 1880s. A distant cousin of the priest told a reporter that he drew big crowds when he gave Mass there. Yet a nurse at the hospital described the priest as "extremely introverted." For the last decade, his duties were limited to visiting patients in nursing homes and hospitals and giving last rites. He also gave Mass at a nursing home.
After his arrest, supporters immediately put together enough property to post a $400,000 property bond to cover his $200,000 bail. The Diocese reportedly has declined to pay his legal bills and the bishop has put him on a leave-of-absence. Following his indictment by the grand jury, he has been out on bail furnished by his many supporters in the Toledo Diocese.
The 68-year-old Robinson could get life in prison if convicted of murder. He cannot get the death penalty because it was not in effect in 1980.
The Toledo Police Department reportedly found bloodstains on an altar cloth that matched those from a sword-shaped letter opener, and they surmise that the stains were made when the weapon was set on the altar cloth. The letter opener was found in Father Robinson's rooms. Investigators first took Robinson into custody in April 2004 after the priest told them that the murder weapon belonged to him. The nun's body was exhumed two years ago for DNA evidence.
... has already begun. There is, quite obviously, much more to this story. Fortunately, the coverage will include the New York Times, L.A. Times, and other national magazines, as well as Court TV. I suspect that this case is one for the books. Paperback, at least.
"Toledo Nun Slain in Hospital Chapel," Elyria Chronicle Telegram, April 6, 1980.
"Catholic Priest Indicted in 1980 slaying of nun," Doylestown Intelligencer, May 4, 2004.
"Church takes another look at Satanic abuse allegations," Elyria Chronicle Telegram, April 28-29, 2004
New Trial Date for Toledo Priest Accused of Murder, WOTL News-Toledo, Oct 5, 2005 http://www.wtol.com/Global/story.asp?S=3914801
Jury Seated in Priest Murder Case, WOTL, April 21, 2006 http://www.wtol.com/Global/story.asp?S=4796365