Toledo Priest Gerald Robinson, Convicted in Nun’s 1980 Murder, Dies While Incarcerated
By Alexandra Mester And Roneisha Mullen
July 5, 2014
A Toledo priest convicted of murder in 2006 for the 1980 slaying of a nun died early Friday in a prison hospital.
Father Gerald Robinson, 76, was in hospice at Franklin Medical Center, a Columbus hospital run by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, when he died at 4:15 a.m.
His attorney, Rick Kerger, said an official cause of death had not yet been disclosed.
Robinson had been in the facility for heart problems.
The priest was serving 15 years to life in prison for the slaying of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl, who was killed on April 5, 1980 — a day before Easter and a day before she would have turned 72.
Sister Margaret Ann’s body was found on the floor of the sacristy of the former Mercy Hospital on Holy Saturday. Evidence showed that she had been choked to the edge of death and stabbed 32 times in the chest, the neck, and the face.
According to Blade archives, Sister Margaret’s Mass of the Resurrection following her slaying was said by Robinson.
The South Central Community of the Sisters of Mercy, the order to which Sister Margaret belonged, issued a statement Friday afternoon saying Robinson’s death “rekindles many painful memories for the Sisters of Mercy, particularly for those in Ohio and everyone who knew and loved Sister Margaret Ann Pahl.”
“Though Sister Margaret Ann has been gone from our midst for  years, we do not forget her,” the statement read. “She dedicated her life to the healing ministry of Jesus in a variety of settings and with great generosity of spirit. Many people continue to remember her for the way she attended to the well-being and care of others until her untimely death.”
The Sisters of Mercy said God’s grace “empowers us to forgive the person who caused her death and created great suffering among us.”
“We rely on the compassionate love of God and the love of others to continue to heal us and to bring peace to all who have experienced such tragedies,” the statement read. “May the all-encompassing mercy of God surround us, restore us, and allow us to move forward on life’s journey.”
In 2004, Robinson was arrested at his home on Nebraska Avenue, next to the Scott Park District Toledo police substation.
The arrest came nearly a quarter of a century after the nun’s slaying, after Lucas County cold-case detectives tied him to the case through blood patterns on evidence and at the crime scene.
Born in Toledo on April 14, 1938, Gerald John Robinson was educated at St. Mary’s College in Orchard Lake, Mich., and at the SS Cyril & Methodius Seminary, Orchard Lake, according to information the Catholic Diocese of Toledo provided in 2006 to the Associated Press.
That biographical sketch said Robinson was ordained in the Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Cathedral in Toledo on May 30, 1964.
At the time of Sister Margaret Ann’s death, he was chaplain of Mercy Hospital in Toledo. According to the information provided by the diocese, Robinson was in that position from 1974 to 1981.
He began his career as assistant pro tem, St. Adalbert parish in Toledo, in 1964 and served in that capacity until 1969.
From 1969 to 1972, Robinson was associate pastor of Christ the King Catholic Church in Toledo. Then, he was associate pastor of St. Adalbert in Toledo from 1972 to 1973; associate pastor of St. Michael’s in Findlay from 1973 to 1974; pastor of St. Anthony, St. Stansislaus, and Nativity parishes in Toledo from 1981-89; associate pastor of St. Joseph’s in Sylvania from 1989 to 1990; a part-time minister at Flower Hospital and Lake Park Nursing Home in Sylvania from 1990-94; church-appointed chaplain serving at Flower Hospital and Lake Park Nursing Home from 1994 to 1996, and administrator of St. Vincent de Paul in Toledo, 1996-97, according to the diocese biographical sketch.
Robinson maintained his innocence during the criminal proceedings against him.
He pleaded innocent in court, signed a sworn document saying he did not commit the murder, and filed multiple appeals in an attempt to overturn his conviction.
After eight years in prison, Robinson suffered a heart attack around Memorial Day and was told he had 30 to 60 days to live.
Mr. Kerger said Robinson had been given last rites about a month ago after finding out his condition was terminal.
Robinson’s death comes one day after a federal court judge denied his plea to be released from prison to live out his final days.
Mr. Kerger said he spoke with his client on Thursday afternoon to share the court’s ruling.
“He was having a hard time understanding me, so I knew it was getting close,” he said. “It’s unfortunate we couldn’t finish out the federal case. I think it would have had a different ending.”
Robinson was found guilty of murder on May 11, 2006, by a Lucas County Common Pleas Court jury.
Mr. Kerger filed a petition for equitable relief on June 27 in U.S. District Court in Cleveland.
In Thursday’s ruling, U.S. District Judge James Gwin wrote that the federal court did not have jurisdiction to grant Robinson’s motion for a compassionate release. He said state law allows Ohio’s governor to order that an inmate be released on compassionate grounds, although Robinson was not eligible under state law because it excludes those convicted of murder. A previous plea to Gov. John Kasich was denied on that ground.
The Ohio Attorney General’s Office wrote in its response to Robinson’s request that he had committed “a particularly gruesome crime.”
“I’m sorry he passed, and I’ll miss him, but he’s in a better place now,” Mr. Kerger said. “With his faith, he’ll be fine.”
Attorney John Thebes was among those who represented Robinson at his criminal trial in 2006.
“I'm very saddened by his passing,” Mr. Thebes said. “I’ve been saddened since the day he was found guilty.”
Robinson did not testify at his trial.
Mr. Thebes said the move leaves one question lingering in his mind.
“What would have happened if he testified? That’s the big question in my mind. I wonder about that constantly,” he said. “At the time, we didn’t feel the prosecution had proved its case. Maybe the jury wanted to hear him say he didn’t do it. I don't know.”
The case garnered national attention, thrusting Toledo into the national spotlight.
“We were in the eye of the hurricane,” Mr. Thebes said. “National medial descended upon us.”
The Catholic Diocese of Toledo declined to comment on the matter Friday but indicated a statement could be released today.
Alan Konop, who was Robinson’s defense attorney during his trial, said he is saddened by news of his former client’s death.
“He was a deeply spiritual person and very humble,” Mr. Konop said. “I really got to know him well and it’s sad.”
One of the cold-case investigators who helped solve the murder, Tom Ross, also declined to comment when reached by The Blade. Another of the investigators, Steve Forrester, and Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates could not be reached.
Funeral arrangements are pending.