Priest Found Guilty; Cleric Gets 15 Years to Life in Toledo Nuns
Jury takes 6 hours to reach decision
By DAVID YONKE, BLADE RELIGION EDITOR
May 12, 2006
A murder case unsolved for 26 years was brought to an unexpectedly
quick and dramatic end yesterday after jurors convicted a 68-year-old
Toledo priest, Gerald Robinson, in the brutal, ritualistic murder
of a nun.
The 12 jurors in the Lucas County Common Pleas Court trial deliberated
just over six hours before reaching a unanimous verdict.
Robinson, wearing his clerical collar, showed no emotion as Judge
Thomas Osowik read the verdict and then polled the seven female
and five male jurors individually.
Judge Osowik then asked Robinson if he wished to say anything and
the priest who did not take the witness stand and never spoke
during the three-week trial declined. The jammed courtroom
was eerily silent but for an immediate gasp, followed by the stifled
sobs of the priests sister-in-law, Barbara Robinson of Toledo.
The judge immediately imposed a sentence of 15 years to life in
prison; Robinson will be eligible for parole in 10½ years.
The slight, balding priest was handcuffed and escorted out of the
fourth-floor courtroom by court deputies. His defense attorneys
announced at a press conference afterward they intend to appeal
After three weeks of courtroom testimony by 41 witnesses, with
more than 200 items of evidence introduced, it took less than four
minutes for Robinsons verdict, sentence, and removal. The
judge focused on procedure and made no remarks.
Robinson, who is retired from the Toledo diocese and barred from
public ministry, was taken down an elevator to a basement tunnel
leading to the Lucas County jail.
After he was booked, the priest exchanged his black clerical garb
for a brown jail jumpsuit he was not allowed to keep his
rosary and was held overnight in the jails second-floor
He is under a suicide watch for the next few days as a precautionary
measure, according to Jim ONeal, corrections administrator.
Robinson will be taken within a few days to the Corrections Center
of Northwest Ohio and then transferred to an as-yet undetermined
After the verdict, the three assistant Lucas County prosecutors
who tried the case Dean Mandros, Larry Kiroff, and Chris
Anderson walked through the courtrooms wooden doors
and were greeted with a burst of applause from a small group of
observers who were standing in the hallway.
Mr. Mandros immediately shook his head no, signaling them to stop.
I dont see it as a reason to celebrate, Mr. Mandros
said. Were dealing with a homicide case. Were
trying to hold the person responsible accountable. We didnt
go back in the office and high-five each other.
Robinson is believed to be the first U.S. Roman Catholic priest
ever tried and convicted for murder in the death of a Roman Catholic
nun, and the ritualistic aspects of the slaying made the case even
It is unlikely that the factual situation
be repeated, Mr. Mandros said.
Sister Margaret Ann, a nurse and former administrator of two different
Sisters of Mercy hospitals, was choked and stabbed 31 times on the
morning of April 5, 1980 the day before Easter and her 72nd
The nun, who lived in a convent in Mercy Hospital, slept later
than her usual 5 a.m. wake-up that day because there was no 6 a.m.
Mass in the chapel on Holy Saturday.
Described as a devout, old-school Catholic, Sister
Margaret Ann ate a quick breakfast of grapefruit, cereal, and coffee
before heading to the sacristy, next door to the chapel, where she
planned to make preparations for the evening services.
There the nun, who was hard of hearing, was attacked from behind.
The killer wrapped a piece of cloth around her neck and choked her
so tightly that he broke two bones in her neck.
Barely alive, Sister Margaret Ann was placed on the cold terrazzo
floor and covered with an altar cloth.
Jurors agreed it was Robinson who used his distinctive saber-shaped
letter opener to stab her nine times over the heart in the shape
of an upside-down cross.
He removed the altar cloth, stabbed her 22 more times, and then
anointed Sister Margaret Anns forehead with her
As a final act of degradation and humiliation, Robinson pulled
the nuns dress up to her chest and her girdle and hose down
over her ankles, then penetrated her with either a cross, the letter
opener, or his finger, prosecutors said.
The Rev. Jeffrey Grob, a Catholic priest from Chicago and an expert
on church rituals and the occult, testified that the killer had
a specialized knowledge of church ritual and that the
murder was intended to mock Sister Margaret Ann and as an affront
to the church and to God.
In his closing argument Wednesday, Mr. Mandros said that although
there were many ritual elements to the murder, it was not
a satanic cult killing. Rather, he said, it was perhaps
the most common scenario there is for a homicide: A man got very
angry at a woman and the woman died. The only thing different is
that the man wore a white collar and the woman wore a habit.
Mr. Mandros called it a rage killing and said that Robinson, angry
at the nun and mad at the world, had taken a lot, but he wasnt
going to take any more.
Relatives of Sister Margaret Ann said yesterday that they felt
a sense of relief with the verdict.
Lee Pahl, 53, a nephew from the nuns hometown of Edgerton,
Ohio, who attended much of the trial, smiled broadly in the courthouse
and said he was glad that the long ordeal was over.
A niece, Marilyn Duvall, 54, of Nashville, Ind., said she watched
the trial on CourtTV and was holding her breath waiting
for the verdict.
I was quite relieved, and I think they made the correct decision,
Friends and relatives of Robinson declined to comment. As she exited
the courtroom, Robinsons sister-in-law, wiping away tears,
turned to Claudia Vercellotti, local co-coordinator of an advocacy
group for victims of clerical abuse, and said, I hope you
rot in hell.
In a press conference, prosecutors said they were surprised by
the quick verdict.
My keen analysis of the situation is that either we had presented
a very overwhelming case, or a very underwhelming case, Mr.
Defense attorneys Alan Konop, John Thebes, and Nicole Khoury looked
tired and dejected when they met with the media.
Obviously, we are extremely disappointed with the outcome,
Mr. Thebes said, tears welling in his eyes. Today is difficult.
But the jury has spoken and unfortunately thats the way it
Mr. Konop cut short questions about what the defense might have
Im not going to talk about second guessing, what should
and what should not have been done, he said. What was
done was done. The verdict was rendered. We respect the verdict,
and there will be an appeal and we do think there are some appealable
All 12 jurors opted to skip the press conference. One, Trushay
Carpenter, told WTOL-TV yesterday that most jurors initially believed
Robinson was guilty and the rest were persuaded during deliberations
of the evidence.
She said the prosecutions case about the murder weapon is
what convinced her that Robinson was guilty, and that she felt the
defenses case was not very strong.
Contacted by The Blade last night, juror Denise West said: It
was a very, very difficult case, and I just want to put it behind
me. She declined further comment.
Four other jurors contacted by The Blade last night declined to
comment about the trial, and the others could not be reached for
Bishop Leonard Blair, who placed Robinson on leave after his arrest
April 23, 2004, said in a statement that it was a sad day
for the diocese of Toledo.
Blade Staff Writers Ignazio Messina, Christina Hall, and Megan
Gilbert contributed to this report.
Contact David Yonke at: [email protected] or 419-724-6154.