Priest's Defense in Trial on Nun's Slaying Wraps up

By John Seewer
Associated Press, carried in Beacon Journal
May 8, 2006

Toledo, Ohio - A forensic anthropologist and best-selling mystery author testified Monday that investigators who inserted a letter opener into the jawbone of a nun killed 26 years ago in a hospital chapel may have compromised evidence used against a priest charged with the slaying.

The letter opener, which prosecutors say the Rev. Gerald Robinson used to kill the nun, could have damaged the bone, said Kathleen Reichs, who helped inspire story lines on the television show "Bones" about a real-life forensic detective.

"It just makes common sense not to do that," Reichs said.

The defense rested its case after Reichs testified. Closing arguments were set for Wednesday.

Much of the testimony in the trial, which began with jury selection three weeks ago, has focused on DNA evidence, a bloody altar cloth taken from the chapel and the letter opener.

Robinson, the chaplain at Mercy Hospital, had worked closely with Sister Margaret Ann Pahl, the chapel caretaker. He presided over the nun's funeral. Prosecutors have not offered a possible motive.

Prosecutors say Robinson used the letter opener to stab the 71-year-old nun 31 times in the face, neck and chest the day before Easter in 1980. An assistant coroner for Lucas County testified earlier in the trial that the letter opener was a "perfect fit" when inserted into the jawbone.

Reichs compared before and after photographs of a puncture wound in Sister Pahl's jawbone and said the edges of the bone looked different. The nun's body was exhumed in 2004.

Under cross examination, Reichs said she did not examine the bone herself and can't say with certainty that the test affected it. "We'll never know if it was modified or not," Reichs said.

Robinson, 68, was a suspect early on because he was near the chapel at the time of the killing. But he was not arrested until two years ago.

It wasn't until after his arrest and the exhumation of the nun's body that investigators discovered the puncture wound in the jaw that they say matched the letter opener.

A DNA expert for the defense testified Monday that Robinson's DNA does not match a hair found in a doorway near Robinson's apartment in the hospital.

Defense attorneys were trying to show that someone else could have been the killer and raise doubts about how thoroughly police looked at evidence found in the hospital, including hair and blood. Police did not test the hair from the doorway.

Meghan Clement, technical director with LabCorp, a private lab, said she also she tested DNA found on an altar cloth placed on top of Sister Pahl's body. She said the DNA was a mixture that came from Sister Pahl and a man who was not Robinson.

Prosecutors spent eight days trying to link the priest's letter opener with the killing and place him at the scene. Two witnesses testified they saw him near the chapel the day of the killing.

Defense lawyers focused on DNA found on the altar cloth and the nun's underwear and fingernails that did not match Robinson but came from another man. The defense called 10 witnesses over the past two days.

Testimony on Monday went deeper into allegations that police department leaders stymied the investigation into the slaying.

On Friday, former police detective Arthur Marx said former Deputy Chief Ray Vetter and Monsignor Jerome Schmidt from the Toledo Catholic Diocese interrupted a police interview with Robinson in 1980 and that priest left soon afterward.

Vetter testified Monday that Robinson's standing in the Catholic community did not cause detectives to look the other way. "Absolutely not," Vetter said.

He said he remembered taking Schmidt to the police station but did not recall interrupting the police interview.

Retired police Lt. William Kina, who was in the interview with Robinson, testified Monday that he was "livid" when Vetter showed up about hour into the interrogation. The priest left soon after that.


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