An Insider Tells What Happened in the Courtroom -- Hugs, Tears, Shock - News, Weather, Sports, Toledo, OH

An Insider Tells What Happened in the Courtroom -- Hugs, Tears, Shock

Father Gerald Robinson leaves the courtroom in handcuffs after being found guilty by the jury. Father Gerald Robinson leaves the courtroom in handcuffs after being found guilty by the jury.

TOLEDO -- News 11's on-the-scene reporter, Jonathan Walsh, shares with you what he observed in the courtroom Thursday before, during, and after the jury found Father Gerald Robinson's conviction for the murder of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl. Here is his first-person account:

As I walked into the courtroom minutes before the verdict was announced, I noticed a packed room filled with attorneys, judges, supporters for both sides, and random people not affiliated with the case -- but who wanted to be a part of the outcome.

As I took my seat, a man to my right introduced himself to me as a local attorney who felt the need to hear just how this case would conclude. I looked around for Sister Margaret Ann Pahl's nephew Lee Pahl. He was not there. He was out of town on the day the jury is giving its decision.

I noted the times of certain events in the courtroom:

11:37am: Father Gerald Robinson enters through the doors with his defense team. The multiple clicks from media still cameras resound, breaking the hush in the courtroom. Just two rows in front of me, Father Robinson's relatives and supporters start to hug and cry even before the final gavel falls.

11:38am: A courtroom bailiff warns the audience about turning off their cell phones and says if there are any outbursts when the verdict is read, those people would be removed and could be arrested. Silence fell.

11:39am: The prosecution team walks into the courtroom. They look a bit nervous, but calmly seat themselves at the state's table.

11:40am: "All rise." Judge Thomas Osowik walks to his seat, but remains standing. He tells people in the courtroom to stay on their feet until the jurors are seated. There is a bit of a pause, then the jury walks in one-by-one in a straight line. I noticed right away not one of them looked at Father Robinson. In fact, I found several making it a point to look the other way as they passed in front of the defense table.

11:42am: The verdict of "guilty" is read. Father Robinson's relatives and supporters let out a collective gasp -- not loud enough to disturb the proceedings, but audible enough to denote a true sense of disbelief.

One supporter had his head in his hands. One woman held a scarf over her face as her body shook from the emotions and tears. Another woman dropped her head, shook her head, and wiped many tears from her eyes as the logistics of asking each jury member if guilty was indeed how they individually felt. They all agreed it was.

Shortly after the judge read the sentence of 15 years to life, more tears fell from those who came to stand behind Father Robinson. I could not see Father Robinson's face, but there was no visible reaction from the priest from my vantage point. However, I can only imagine what it must have been like on the inside.

The priest, newly convicted of murder, left the Lucas County courtroom in handcuffs.

The prosecution was the first to leave. As the team walked into the hallway, I could hear applause outside the courtroom, obviously from those supporting the verdict and for those who put the case into court to begin with.

The verdict was read in Lucas County Common Pleas Court just after 11:30 on Thursday morning. The jury had deliberated about six hours before convicting Robinson of murder.  Judge Thomas Osowik immediately sentenced Robinson, 68, to the mandatory term of 15 years to life in prison.

Sister Margaret Ann Pahl, 71, was found in the sacristy of the former Mercy Hospital chapel on the day before Easter in 1980.  She was lying on her back with an altar cloth covering part of her body. She had been stabbed approximately 30 times in her chest and neck in a pattern that investigators said resembled a cross. Police believe the weapon used in the stabbing was a dagger-shaped letter opener that belonged to Father Robinson, who was then serving as the hospital's chaplain.

The priest did not visibly react to the verdict. Robinson's friends and family gasped when it was read. A courtroom deputy handcuffed Robinson behind his back and led him away.

None of the jurors looked at Robinson, who wore his priest's collar throughout the trial, when they walked in the courtroom. Some intentionally looked away.

"We always believed that we were prosecuting the right individual," said Assistant Lucas County Prosecutor Dean Mandros in a news conference after the conviction. "We always believed that the letter opener was the murder weapon. We always believed that he lied to the police."

"Obviously, I'm relieved," the victim's niece, Marilyn Duvall, 54, of Nashville, Ind., said after she watched the verdict on television from home. "I was just wondering which way it was going to go. You just never know."

"Let us hope that the conclusion of the trial will bring some measure of healing for all those affected by the case as well as for our local church," Leonard Blair, bishop of the Toledo Diocese, said in a statement. "The diocese has remained steadfast in the work of the Church and its ministries throughout this trial, and will continue to do so."

To read the rest of the statement from the diocese, click here.

In closing arguments, Lucas County Prosecutor Dean Mandros said Father Robinson was so angry with Sister Margaret Ann, he tried to anoint her with her own blood in a "bastardized" version of the last rites.

The defense countered that DNA evidence doesn't link Father Robinson to the crime. Sister Margaret Ann's underwear and fingernails had traces of DNA that was likely from a man, but not from Robinson, said defense attorney John Thebes. "They (prosecutors) can't make their case beyond a reasonable doubt forensically, and they know it," Thebes said.

SNAP, the Survivor's Network of those Abused by Priests, issued a statement shortly after the verdict. "Ohio is a safer state today because of this verdict. We hope it brings long over due comfort to the loved ones of Sister Margaret Ann and the Toledo community."

To read the rest of the statement from SNAP, click here.

Updated by AEB

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