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HolyToledo

There are a few confusing points on your blog entry. I'm hoping that you clarify them for me and your readers.

You write that the State of Ohio pursued the comparison testing of the DNA found on Sr. Margaret's waistband, as well as the DNA found with the fingernail clippings. You suggest that since the State of Ohio pursued these tests that it indicates that even they doubt the legitimacy of the conviction.

As you know, the Ohio Innocence Project has joined the Robinson Defense Team. Media reports indicate that it their organization, not the State of Ohio, that pursued the DNA comparison which eventually excluded both Swiatecki and Watts as suspects in the murder. Do you know otherwise?

http://toledoblade.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090831/NEWS16/908310346/0/COLUMNIST12

Secondly, when you write that the fingernail clippings were BLOODY you are painting a picture to your blog readers that is not completely accurate. There was an infinitesimal or minute amount of DNA found with the fingernail clippings. There was also a minute amount of DNA found on Sr. Margaret's waistband.

Were the scientists from the Ohio Innocence Project able to conclude that those samples of DNA matched each other?

Personally, when the Ohio Innocence Project became involved with the case it gave me pause. However, their work has excluded the very two persons, Swiatecki and Watts, that the defense team has tried to pin the case on.

However, If they'd attempt to subpoena the investigatory records of the Toledo Catholic Diocese from the period of time around the murder then I'd certainly think twice. I firmly believe that they've got information crucial to this case.

I'm not convinced that it would completely exonerate Robinson but I've always thought that there is more to this case and the people with the keys are at the diocesan offices.

laura

No, I am not misleading anyone. The woman's fingernail clippings contained a man's blood. It wasn't the defendant's blood.

Multiple tests were done on the fingernail scrapings in this case. The Court of Appeals opinion spells out that "The [fingernail] clippings were swabbed and tested for the presence of blood and at least one of them tested positive. The blood was not appellant's [Father Robinson's]. A small amount of DNA was extracted from the clippings. As with the blood, the DNA was excluded as being appellant's." Page 21.

It is the prosecutor who misleads when he insists on dwelling on the so-called "small" amount of DNA recovered from Sister Pahl's nails. It's called TRACE evidence for a reason. A trace is "an extremely small amount" per the Free Dictionary. It's a red herring. I think they know it, too. They are not strangers to DNA evidence. They may well have had other cases in their office involving fingernail scrapings (that actually matched).

When I was talking to the men who headed the Coral Watts Task Force, they expressed their frustration with the Toledo police investigating Sister Pahl's murder. Said one of them, "They didn't tell us they had fingernail scrapings."

laura

>>You suggest that since the State of Ohio pursued these tests that it indicates that even they doubt the legitimacy of the conviction. Media reports indicate that it their organization, not the State of Ohio, that pursued the DNA comparison which eventually excluded both Swiatecki and Watts as suspects in the murder. Do you know otherwise?<<

Yes, years ago, before the trial, when DNA tests excluded Father Robinson, the prosecution, on its own initiative and without notice to the defense, obtained a hospital specimen on the late Father Jerome Swiatecki and compared his DNA also. The defense did not learn that this was done until the oral argument at the Court of Appeals. I was there, I heard the disclosure.

If the prosecutor truly believed this DNA was not the DNA of the killer, he wouldn't have gone to such lengths to check a dead man's DNA. They wouldn't have underscored the importance of the DNA by pursuing a match to anyone else. They couldn't even admit they'd done so - they chose to keep that testing secret from the jury, and defense for as long as they could.

When Watts was tested, it was because the Ohio Innocence Project made an informal request of the prosecutor's office and also filed a motion. But it wasn't necessary to go to court and get a court order for the Watts testing. The prosecution agreed to do the testing. Why? Doesn't it surprise you that they did not fight this request tooth and nail when they have so zealously litigated this case all along?

One of the requirements to get DNA testing AFTER a conviction is that the DNA has to be "outcome determinative." http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/2953.71 This is a difficult requirement and a lot of testing requests are turned down on that point. But here, apparently the prosecutor wasn't prepared to fight the request in court because he knows this DNA is outcome determinative. Actions speak louder than words.

Thomas A Robakowski

DEAR Laura,
the comments sent to you from "Holy Toledo" are quite interesting - especially since that site conatins many chapter's of David Yonke's book. What a coincidence.
At any rate i assume that you are probably aware of an impending story which will appear soon in a publication other than the toledo blade. i spoke with the reporter for about a half an hour and then directed him to you. i hope that he did so. Again, thanks for the your continuous efforts on behalf of Father Robinson. Also, please forgive me for my crude attempt to be funny when i met you - totally out of place and character. That's why i usually keep my big yap closed.

respectively yours,

tom robakowski

Thomas A Robakowski

DEAR Laura,

typo on previous message. should say "respectfully yours" not "respectively yours"

tom robakowski

laura

Thanks Tom and I don't remember what you said when we met. So maybe it wasn't crude (or wasn't funny?)
I don't know of any other stories so please let me know if you see or hear one.

HolyToledo

Laura -

Now you are calling the blood evidence "trace." Certainly, you have to concede that characterizing evidence as "trace" provides different imagery than bloody. If calling the evidence "small" is a red herring. Calling it "bloody" is a red herring too.

===============

I think that some of the beef that you have with the prosecution is probably more appropriately laid at the feet of Robinson's original defense team of Konop, Thebes, and Khoury.

I know it isn't the job of the defense to prove that Robinson didn't kill her because of the presumption of innocence. That being said it isn't the job of the prosecution to disprove their own case. They were obligated to disclose definitive evidence that excluded the defendant Robinson.

When the prosecution's efforts excluded Swiatecki, they weren't obligated to disclose that to the defense team were they?

One could argue that the prosecution doubted their own case by testing the DNA of Swiatecki, but one could also argue that they were simply eliminating other possible suspects.

======================

I'm not sure how you can say that the prosecution "zealously litigated this case all along."

I'd characterize the prosecution as reluctant until the Bureau Criminal Investigations forced the issue.

Why? There have always been personal relationships among those employed by the prosecutor's office and the attorneys for the diocese that impeded this case for years.

I think that we agree that there is more evidence to be discovered in this case. Perhaps the prosecution is not revealing all of the evidence that incriminates Robinson so they have something else should the case be re-opened.

===============

I admire your zealous support of Fr. Robinson.

However I find it noteworthy that there is little mention in this blog or among Robinson's supporters of the life of Sr. Margaret. The fact that people have risen to the defense of a priest that they believe was wrongly convicted is commendable.

But it is a sad commentary that in the 20 plus years after her brutal murder NO ONE demanded answers as to who was responsible for her brutal stabbing.

Sr. Margaret Ann Pahl devoted her entire adult life in service to Roman Catholic Church first as a nurse, then as an administrator, and finally as a sacristan at the Mercy Hospital Chapel. She was snuffed out and very few people seemed to care.

laura

The woman's fingernails were collected at autopsy and tested positive for blood. It is perfectly, factually correct to refer to this forensic evidence as bloody fingernails.

This blood, which was not Father Robinson's, could not have come from a cough. It could not have come from a sneeze, unless the sneezer had a bloody nose.

The prosecution has been very zealous, as evidenced by the fact that so much evidence was withheld from the defense. What really bothers me the most about it is that defense attorneys in Ohio have been complaining for years about the illegal and unethical discovery practices in the Lucas County Prosecutor's Office.

In a recent lengthy examination of the dispute in the Toledo Blade, Lucas County prosecutors have represented to the public that there is no need for a change in discovery practices and rules. Indeed, the prosecutor who got the conviction on Father Robinson was quoted in the piece, pointing to THIS case as an example of the prosecutor's “open file policy.”

That statement is an outrage to anyone familiar with this case. It was a flagrant violation of the Ohio Discovery Rules for the prosecution to withhold the evidence that there were other suspects.

On the Father Swiatecki material, YES they were legally obligated to turn it over. The Ohio Rule is that all evidence that is "material to the preparation of the defense" needs to be turned over on demand. If that's not specific enough for them, the rule also says that "any tests" must be turned over. Rule 16: http://www.sconet.state.oh.us/LegalResources/Rules/criminal/CriminalProcedure.pdf

WHAT could be more material than the fact that there were other suspects in the murder? Why was there nothing on Coral Watts in 400+ pages of police files? Why weren't ALL the tests turned over prior to trial? The rule says ANY tests. The testing on Father Swiatecki was NOT turned over. That was a violation of the rules, period, and there is no excuse for it.

And here we have the prosecutor referring to his disclosures in Robinson's case as "open book." It's horseshit on its face.

What I am trying to do here is to Demand Answers, too. I can't do anything to help Sister Pahl. This is a double tragedy as far as I am concerned, and I am doing everything I can think of to help the only person I can.

HolyToledo

Believe me, I've got my own beefs with the Lucas County Prosecutor's Office. They conducted a no knock search warrant on Diocesan Offices and found evidence related to the Fr. Robinson case. They had previously issued a subpoena and court order requiring the diocese to turn over any and all information on the case.

When the officers executing the warrant found additional records of the diocese's own internal investigation, was that not evidence of obstruction of justice? The diocese had originally offered 3 pages. The search warrant produced nearly 150 more pages of internal investigatory records.

THE DIOCESE WITHHELD EVIDENCE and yet there were no official legal repercussions against them by the Lucas County Prosecutor's Office.

Why? That's an answer that I'd like someone to demand of the Lucas County Prosecutor's Office.

Here's another thing that I'd like answers about. In their sworn testimony, Det. Art Marx and Det. William Kina stated that they were ordered by their superior Capt. Ray Vetter to give all their paperwork to him. They testified that this was in direct opposition to the police practice of retaining a copy, submitting a copy to the records room, and submitting a copy to the supervising officer.

Ray Vetter did not dispute their testimony. AND NOW, those records are gone.

THAT IS DESTRUCTION OF EVIDENCE.

And yet, they did not pursue any legal actions against Mr. Vetter? Why?

You believe that there is recent corruption. I believe that there has ALWAYS been corruption in this case.

++++++++++++

So besides the evidence that eliminated Swiatecki what else did they withhold?

I can only guess why Coral Watts was not mentioned. Perhaps he was not considered by police to be an actual suspect. The defense may have considered him to be a suspect but perhaps the police did not.

To me, the nature of the crime suggested that who ever killed Sr. Margaret knew her. From what I've read about the brutality of her wounds, it did not seem like an accidental death related to a botched burglary. To me, it seems likely that they would examine and eliminate others who worked with Sr. Margaret as possible suspects.

======================

I still maintain that the diocese has the most information on this case. I think that they thought that there was no way that the prosecution could get a conviction so they asked Robinson to "take one for the team."

Why doesn't Robinson's defense team subpoena the diocese's internal records? You've got their ear Laura. Ask them. I know a lot of people who would think twice about Robinson's guilt if the defense pursued that.

(Then again, maybe the defense can't subpoena the diocese if it is the diocese who is - at least in part - secretly footing the legal bills.)

Wouldn't that be something. We'll pay Robinson's legal defense if you zealously pursue every lead about someone else being responsible for Sr. Margaret's murder EXCEPT if that leads you to US!

HolyToledo

U.S. Supreme Court won't hear Robinson's appeal. But then again, you know this already. . . .

http://www.toledoblade.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20091006/NEWS02/910069978

laura

Well, where to begin.....

The diocese's behavior is baffling. I wish someone was put under oath on this records issue. I have issued literally thousands of record subpoenas and I can count on one hand the number of times I had to go to court to enforce it. The weirdness never ends in this case. I have long wondered what was going on there.

As to an earlier point you made.... "Now you are calling the blood evidence 'trace.' Certainly, you have to concede that characterizing evidence as 'trace' provides different imagery than bloody."

I will rely on two authorites to back me up on this. This exact type of evidence has always been called traceevidence. Says the Journal of Criminal Law from 1941: "scrapings from the fingernails are often examined for traces of blood."

I agree that calling them "bloody fingernail scrapings" might for some conjure up an image of something you'd put on for Halloween. That is not what is intended.

But that is what the courts call them. See, for example, a case called State v. Anderson: "bloody fingernail scrapings were secured by the police after the defendant's arrest...."

http://ct.findacase.com/research/wfrmDocViewer.aspx/xq/fac.%5CCT%5C1989%5C19890124_0042047.CT.htm/qx

HolyToledo

So why doesn't the defense go after the diocese's records? The diocese conducted it's own concurrent investigations 2 times.

The first investigation happened around the time of the murder. The second happened in the months prior to the cold case being re-opened. Curiously, Ray Vetter was recently employed by them as an investigator.

arthur walker

what does not giving up on father robinson mean?
does that mean you think he is innocent and was wrongly convicted on something not rooted in fact
the simple truth is in my opinion all the players
in this case were all agenda driven.
if we all are waiting on some appeal lawyer to recify this situation,then i think mister robinson will die in prison.i doubt the DNA is being run through any data bases,you need investigators not lawyers to find the real killer
i think the truth will be as simple as finding out who had contact with the sister on a dailey and continuing basis,he will be a white male in the early twenty year old range,thats my opinion
non believers prove me wrong.

Catherine Caffrey

There was no proof that Father Robinson did this. The entire trial was politically motivated and a rush to judgment. Any unbiased person can see that Father Robinson is no more likely to have committed murder than anyone else in the hospital at that time. In a show on TV they had a famous pathologist discussing the so-called fit of the letter opener to the jawbone. Why wasn't he called at trial? Dr. Henry Lee will say whatever you want him to, as long as you can pay him enough. He made a fool of himself at the trial of the staircase killer.

HolyToledo

To suggest that this trial was politically motivated is to not know the political landscape in Toledo, Ohio. Personally, I think politics were the reason that the case laid dormant for so long.


52% of the population of Toledo is Catholic (www.city-data.com/2002) That's over half of the population.

Didn't you ever wonder why no one breathed an official word on Sr. Margaret's murder for some 20 years?

Come on! It is weird that a NUN was CHOKED AND STABBED TO DEATH in a CATHOLIC CHAPEL no less and no one made a peep about it for 20 some years. I lived in Toledo throughout my entire childhood and well into my adult years. No one from the church said anything. No one from the police or prosecutor's office said anything. Not one darn thing EVER. It's like they wanted it to go away.

(So much for the sanctity of life.)

arthur walker

holy toledo if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck then in all probability its a duck!
this trial was nothing short of a smoke and mirrors presentation from the beginning,if the evidence at trial was the same as it was twenty years ago then why would it be a suprise to anyone why no one would hear about it.

one of the main editorals of the blade was referenced as the sins of the father,so the father had no friends in toledo or at least that you could tell.
i am not catholic nor do i know the priest or know anyone who does.
my interest in these blogs are nothing more or nothing less than trying to find information i don,t already have.
i do think this if i can find the right person and ask the right question i can prove the priest did not do this crime,by the way you will see my name at the bottom of this post,i don,t hide behind a keyboard,these post remind me of the old cb days where everybody hid behind a handle they called it. e-mail address provided on request

HolyToledo

Good for you for using your real name. Great as a matter of fact.

And for that matter, if you think that you can prove that the priest didn't do it by simply being able to "find the right person and ask the right question" then what are you waiting for? Have at it. The name of the defense attorney championing Robinson's appeal is all over this blog. Go for it.

But you didn't respond to my question. What would motivate the Diocese of Toledo to not breathe a word about a horrific murder against a NUN that happened on THEIR PROPERTY?

Never one word! Like it never even happened.

M. Schick

"There was no proof that Father Robinson did this...In a show on TV they had a famous pathologist discussing the so-called fit of the letter opener to the jawbone. Why wasn't he called at trial? Dr. Henry Lee will say whatever you want him to, as long as you can pay him enough. He made a fool of himself at the trial of the staircase killer."

Two certified, nationally recognized forensic anthropologists (Saul and Symes) testified that the letter opener was consistent with producing the marks on the mandible and vertebrae of the victim. They examined the evidence, conducted testing, documented the process and provided a scientific, expert opinion.

The defense hired an expert; one with considerable name recognition, Katherine Reichs (the basis for the TV show "Bones") to provide their expert testimony. She did not examine the physical evidence. She reviewed notes and reports of the other experts, analyzed the photographs taken of the marks and provided her expert testimony based on those reports (which includes my favorite phrase "could not say with any degree of scientific certainty that the test fit did, in fact, alter the bone defect")

The evidence was at the coroners office to examine. As a forensic expert, it was her duty to conduct a scientific examination of the evidence, not a book report. Coincidently, this was the only case in her career that she provided an expert opinion based on reports and photographs, rather than the actual physical evidence.

Father Robinson's defense team, and his supporters, have lambasted the prosecution for its "unscientific" approach to the evidence produced at trial and have complained about the evidence lost over the years. However, when crucial evidence was available for examination, the defense never touched it. Why?

Dr. Lee was not the prosecution expert for the toolmark/bone examination.

laura

But in defense of Dr. Reichs, the attorneys for Father Robinson were not told that the body was being exhumed and that testing was being done on her remains. Maybe if the defense had been properly notified, the mistakes in testing would not have been made. The bones would have been photographed and casted prior to testing, as is standard procedure when doing forensic toolmark comparison.

Meanwhile, toolmark comparison testing does not deserve the label "science." Calling it "science" implies that it is objective, and definite. It is not. As the National Academy of Science puts it, conducting toolmark comparisons is challenging. "These decisions involve subjective qualitative judgments by examiners and [] the accuracy of examiners' assessments is highly dependent on their skill and training.... But even with more training and experience using newer techniques, the decision of the toolmark examiner remains a subjective decision based on unarticulated standards."

HolyToledo

Sometimes straightforward questions are actually deserving of straightforward answers Laura.

1. Why won't the defense team legally subpoeana the Diocese's investigative records?

2. Is the Diocese of Toledo (at least in part) bankrolling the costs of Robinson's new and improved appeal?

M.Schick

"Meanwhile, toolmark comparison testing does not deserve the label "science." Calling it "science" implies that it is objective, and definite..."These decisions involve subjective qualitative judgments by examiners and [] the accuracy of examiners' assessments is highly dependent on their skill and training...."

Then call an expert to point this out in court and refute the evidence being presented. Attack the the science through a Daubert-type motion. This probably would have been a stretch since the forensic anthropologists did not actually positively identify the bloody letter opener as the weapon, only linking it to the marks based on class characterisitcs, but at least make the argument. Have your "expert" test, evaluate and document inconsistencies in the prosecution's testing process, not read a report and look at pictures. Don't demand a retrial based on a failed trial strategy.

laura

>>>>1. Why won't the defense team legally subpoeana the Diocese's investigative records?>>>
Maybe if discovery is reopened, they could

>>>2. Is the Diocese of Toledo (at least in part) bankrolling the costs of Robinson's new and improved appeal?>>

That is contrary to what I've been told in the past. Fr Robinson's appeal attorney, John Donahue, has put in hundreds of hours, but I understand he's never been paid by anyone. The Innocence Project is funded by the university, donors, and staffed by student volunteers. And I've never seen a dime.


>>>>>>>>>Then call an expert to point this out in court and refute the evidence being presented. Attack the the science through a Daubert-type motion.....<<<<

Very fair point.


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