Against Satanic Panics > Recent cases > Gerald Robinson

Father Gerald Robinson in Toledo, Ohio (U.S.A.)

by Diane Vera

Copyright © 2006 by Diane Vera. All rights reserved.

  1. How some SRA allegations led to an arrest for a long-ago murder
  2. From the arrest (April 2004) until the beginning of the trial (April 2006)
  3. Summaries of events so far, up to the trial
  4. Some of the photo evidence on the Court TV site
  5. The trial, first two weeks
  6. Rev. Jeffrey Grob's testimony (May 1, 2006) - Attention: Investigative reporters! - smells VERY strange!
  7. Court TV on how the Robinson trial has given a big boost to SRA believers
  8. The Robinson trial continues
  9. Closing arguments
  10. The verdict
  11. Aftermath of the verdict

  1. How some SRA allegations led to an arrest for a long-ago murder
  2. On June 11, 2003, some woman (not yet identified in any news story I've seen) presented a bizarre letter to the Diocesan Review Board of the Toledo diocese of the Roman Catholic Church. She accused a bunch of local priests of performing rituals in which they put her in a coffin filled with cockroaches, forced her to eat a human eyeball, and penetrated her with a snake "to consecrate these orifices to Satan." She also claimed that they killed an infant and a 3-year-old child, performed an abortion on her, and mutilated dogs, all as part of their surreal and thoroughly disgusting alleged rituals.

    The woman sent a copy of her statement to the local chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). Claudia Vercellotti, local co-coordinator of SNAP, took the letter to the state attorney general's office in Wood County in September 2003.

    A relatively minor player in the unnamed woman's allegations was one Father Gerald Robinson. The police could not substantiate her "Satanic ritual abuse" (SRA) allegations, but her mention of Father Robinson convinced the cold case squad to reopen a 24-year-old murder investigation in which the priest had been a suspect. Robinson had never been charged with the murder because there was not enough evidence.

    Robinson was arrested on Friday, April 23, 2004, for the murder of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl, who had been strangled and stabbed about 30 times, in her chest and neck, back on Easter Saturday, April 5, 1980. In news reports, the murder itself was now described as "ritualistic." In some news reports, the stab wounds were said to have been made in the shape of a cross.

    The only new evidence mentioned in news articles before the trial was an analysis of the shapes of bloodstains, which is NOT anywhere nearly as good as a DNA analysis. (Here's an article on The Value of Bloodstain Pattern Interpretation in Criminal Investigations by Marielize Van Zyl.) During the trial, the prosecution also presented other alleged forensic evidence which was not made public earlier because a gag order has been imposed. The defense brought in its own experts to challenge this alleged forensic evidence.

    The trial began on Monday, April 17, 2006. Luckily for the defendant, he does have a lot of supporters in the community who have raised money to help pay for his bond and legal defense. Unfortunately, even a high-priced defense attorney is no guaranteee of a fair trial.

    The Gerald Robinson trial was aired on Court TV and is likely to be a launching pad for a lot of new sensationalism about "Satanism," especially given Jeffrey Grob's expert testimony on Monday, May 1, 2006. Grob, who is an associate vicar for canonical services with the Chicago Archdiocese, considers the murder itself to have been a "Satanic ritual" and an act of "ritual abuse."

    Furthermore, in remarks to the press before the trial, Grob implied that there are many Catholic priests who secretly perform "Satanic rituals." (See the news article Priest's trial in death of nun will include talk of rituals, cults by James Ewinger, Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), Wednesday, April 12, 2006.) It appears that traditionalist Catholic paranoia about "Satanists in the Catholic clergy" may now be seeping into the hierarchy itself. Apparently Grob - and perhaps others in the Catholic hierarchy? - have come to believe the SRA allegations that have surfaced as part of the clergy pedophilia scandal.

    Robinson was found guilty despite DNA evidence showing that the killer was most likely another man (not yet identified). The prosecution did have a lot of circumstantial evidence on its side, but I can't help but suspect that the jury was unfairly swayed emotionally. I hope Robinson's supporters can raise enough money for an appeal.

    Below are several collections of relevant news stories in chronological order, earliest stories first. Below each list of news stories is some further commentary by me.

  3. From the arrest (April 2004) until the beginning of the trial (April 2006)
  4. First, here is a bunch of news stories starting with the arrest of Gerald Robinson on Friday, April 23, 2004, and going up to the beginning of the trial on Monday, April 17, 2006. Some of the following news stories contain background, from which my account above is derived. News story listings prefixed with "SRA:" discuss the "Satanic ritual abuse" sex crime allegations in at least some detail, whereas most other news stories are focussed on the murder. At the end of this section, after the list of news stories, I'll comment on the SRA allegations and on Jeffrey Grob's remarks.

    As I've indicated in my comments on one of the news stories listed above, SRA allegations were made by a total of four women. Three of those four women admitted that their allegations were based on "recovered memories," thereby fitting the classic 1980's-style SRA mold.

    The SRA allegations are highly improbable. Just think of the logistics involved in keeping a coffin full of live cockroaches around in the rectory, or wherever a bunch of deranged Catholic priests might possibly have kept such a thing. This imagery is the stuff of nightmares, not real life.

    But how could all those women have had similar nightmares about the same people, despite not knowing each other? I have to wonder: Was there really no connection amongst these four women? Might they possibly have had the same psychotherapist, for example?

    A couple of the above articles mentioned Dawn Perlmutter, who apparently was considered enough of an expert to be consulted by the police, but was not chosen to be an expert witness in the trial. (A phone call to one of the defense attorneys confirmed that she's not on the list of expert witnesses.)

    On the other hand, Jeffrey Grob, another SRA scaremonger, did indeed testify as an expert witness. Grob is an "associate vicar for cananoical services" in the Chicago archdiocese. He is also the Chicago archdiocese's official spokesperson on exorcism, "the occult," and related matters. Thus we have seen an official spokesperson for the Chicago archdiocese endorsing SRA allegations.

    Given Jeffrey Grob's position in the Chicago archdiocese, what are we to make of his claim that Catholic priests are "even more susceptible" than most people to the possibility of performing Satanic rituals?

    Perhaps some people in the Catholic hierarchy think that the way to solve the clergy pedophilia problem is to crack down on "Satanists" within the Catholic clergy? What the more conservative Catholics don't want to consider is the possibility that the clergy pedophilia problem could, most likely, be greatly reduced by allowing priests to marry. Because of the celibacy requirement, the Catholic priesthood naturally attracts people whose sexuality doesn't have a socially acceptable outlet anyway - such as pedophiles - and who therefore may have made a sincere decision to be celibate, only to give in to "temptation" later. On the other hand, if Catholic priests were allowed to marry, then the priesthood would attract a higher percentage of sexually "normal" men than it does now. But, since the Church doesn't want to consider an obvious practical measure to reduce the clergy pedophilia problem, apparently at least some people in the clergy would prefer to look for scapegoats. And the preferred scapegoats, apparently, are gays and "Satanists."

  5. Summaries of events so far, up to the trial
  6. A local TV station, WTOL-TV 11 News, in Toledo, Ohio, has a page of Special Coverage of The State vs. Father Robinson, including:

    Also, the Court TV website has a section Ohio v. Gerlald Robinson: Nun Murdered, Priest Accused, including:

    The Court TV Crime Library website has the following articles:

  7. Some of the photo evidence on the Court TV site
  8. Here are some of the photos in Court TV's Evidence file, with my comments:

    • 1980 crime scene photo, said to show "Sr. Margaret Ann Pahl, a 71-year-old nun of the Sisters of Mercy order, as she was found lying on the floor of the sacristy of Mercy Hospital chapel." Not a good photo; I can't see much of anything at all.
    • unidentified photo accompanied by CourtTV comment: "The murder occurred on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter and one of the few mornings Mass was not celebrated in the chapel. Although the police had Polaroid film available, their policy in 1980 was to shoot the crime scene in black and white. Color was thought to be too jarring for juries, a retired officer testified."
    • Wiping handle: Mirror images, accompanied by comment: "The killer stabbed Sr. Margaret Ann in the chest, neck and face, including one wound to the jawbone, which would prove crucial in reviving the investigation."
    • unidentified photo apparently supposed to show pattern of wounds, accompanied by comment: "Nine of the wounds Sr. Margaret Ann suffered came when the killer plunged a blade through an altar cloth."
    • Altar cloth with stab marks
    • The alleged cross-shaped pattern of wounds - looks to me more like a capital "T" than like a complete cross.
    • The letter opener which police believe was the murder weapon
    • unidentified photo (of stab wound?) accompanied by comment: "Forensic anthropologists testified that a stab wound in Sr. Margaret Ann's jaw bone was consistent with the letter opener. A medical examiner testified that the weapon was 'a perfect fit.'"
    • The letter opener next to allegedly matching blood stains on altar cloth
    • More bloodstain pattern matching - this photo looks a little more convincing, to me, than the previous one, but let's wait and see what the defense has to say about it.
    • Still more bloodstain pattern matching

    As we'll see later, in news articles linked further down on this page, the defense attorney tried to cast doubt on the bloodstain pattern-matching by pointing out the following: (1) that other people besides Robinson had access to his apartment and thus could have taken the letter opener, and (2) that the stains also look like they could have come from a scissors; and indeed one witness reported a scissors missing.

  9. The trial, first two weeks
  10. Now for some news stories about the trial itself, up to the point where "Satanic" allegations are introduced:

    A few of the above articles mention DNA evidence. Some unidentified man's DNA - not Robinson's - was found on the altar cloth and on the nun's underwear. For some reason, the above articles don't mention that this other man's DNA - again, not Robinson's - was also found on the nun's fingernails. But the finding of DNA on the nun's fingernails will be mentioned in later news articles further down on this page.

    Some "Satanic"/"occult" allegations were then introduced in testimony by Jeffrey Grob.

  11. Rev. Jeffrey Grob's testimony (May 1, 2006) - Attention: Investigative reporters! - smells VERY strange!
  12. On May 1, the trial featured expert testimony by Jeffrey Grob, said to be a Catholic expert on ritual. Based on his testimony, various news media have claimed that the murder was a "Satanic" or "occult" ritual.

    The prosecution's aim in interviewing Grob was to prove that the murderer was most likely a Catholic priest. According to Grob, the murder had many aspects involving "profanation," "defilement," or "reversal" of things sacred to Roman Catholics, and it had so many such aspects that only a person with professional knowledge of Catholic ritual could have thought up all those details; hence the murderer was most likely a Catholic priest or possibly a nun or seminarian.

    In fact, none of the details Grob mentioned were particularly arcane. There weren't, for example, any nearby graffiti containing liturgical parodies written in grammatically correct Latin. It doesn't seem to me that any aspect of the murder required more than a very basic knowledge of Catholic ritual. For example, anyone who has ever watched a sensationalistic TV special about "Satanic crime" knows about inverted crosses. Other details, it seems to me, could easily have occurred to anyone who had attended Mass regularly at some point in one's life.

    Anyhow, the alleged cross-shaped pattern of wounds doesn't look to me like a cross in the first place, given what I've seen of the photo evidence on the Court TV site. The "cross" looks to me more like a capital "T."

    Frankly, given the sheer number of wounds, it seems to me that finding a pattern in them is a little like finding pictures in clouds. If you look hard enough, you almost certainly will find some pattern or other, but it wasn't necessarily deliberate.

    The murder did have other aspects which suggest at least a casual knowledge of Catholic ritual, and which suggest a hatred of Christianity, or a hatred of the Roman Catholic Church, or at least a hatred of nuns. For example, the nun was murdered on the day before Easter, and the first nine stab wounds were made through an altar cloth which the killer had placed on top of the nun's body. But the apparently Catholic-hating aspects of the murder do not imply that the murder was intended as a "Satanic ritual." Many different kinds of people can have all sorts of reasons for hating the Catholic church or for hating nuns; this doesn't mean that they are Satanists.

    Below are some news stories containing testimony by Jeffrey Grob. First, here is the Toledo Blade's coverage:

    • Priest Trial: Catholic expert on rituals set to testify by David Yonke, Toledo Blade Religion Editor, Monday, May 1, 2006. Includes the statement: "The Rev. Jeffrey Grob of the Chicago archdiocese is nationally known for his knowledge of Catholic rituals, both official church liturgy and rituals of the unofficial kind - he wrote his doctoral dissertation on exorcism."
    • This article also describes some of the "ritualistic" details of the killing, based on earlier testimony: "Sister Margaret Ann was slain in the room where the Holy Eucharist was kept. The Sister of Mercy nun was choked to the verge of death, after which the killer laid her body on the floor, draped an altar cloth over her, and stabbed her nine times over the heart in the shape of an inverted cross. A detective testified last week that the cross-shaped stab wounds were so precise that he believes the killer put an actual upside-down cross on top of Sister Margaret Ann's body and then stabbed around the edges, using the cross as a 'template.' After that, the killer removed the altar cloth and stabbed the nun 22 more times."

    • Cold-case detective tells why priest was suspect by David Yonke, Toledo Blade Religion Editor, Monday, May 1, 2006. Includes testimony by Rev. Jeffrey Grob of the Chicago archdiocese, said to be "a Roman Catholic priest knowledgeable about rituals" who "took Father Robinson’s murder trial into the realm of the occult."
    • This news story begins, "Toledo Police Detective Steve Forrester explained today how and why the Lucas County cold-case unit focused its attention on the Rev. Gerald Robinson in investigating the 1980 murder of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl. There was a limited window of opportunity, police had eliminated virtually all other hospital employees who could have been suspects, and the killer appeared to be very knowledgeable of church ritual and symbolism, Detective Forrester said in the Lucas County Common Pleas Court murder trial of the 68-year-old priest."

      Here is what the story says about Jeffrey Grob's testimony regarding what reporter David Yonke calls the "realm of the occult":

      Earlier today, a Roman Catholic priest knowledgeable about rituals took Father Robinson’s murder trial into the realm of the occult.

      In chilling testimony, the Rev. Jeffrey Grob of the Chicago archdiocese said numerous details surrounding the murder of Sister Margaret Ann on Holy Saturday, 1980, indicate that the killer intended to mock and violate the devout the nun who was “wedded to Christ,” as well as create an affront to the Roman Catholic Church and God.

      He cited details such as the timing of the murder occurring on Holy Saturday, 1980, during the holiest weekend of the church year; that the murder took place in a sacristy where the Holy Eucharist, the very presence of God, is kept between Good Friday and Easter; that an altar cloth was used to cover the nun’s body, thereby transforming her into an “altar of sacrifice,” and that stab wounds over her heart were made in the shape of an inverted cross, a symbol of Satanic worship.

      Such details individually may not indicate a ritualistic murder, but in sum represent “a reversal of things sacred . ...these aren’t random acts.”

      After that, Jeffrey Grob testified about another issue, namely Father Robinson's claim, during a 1980 interrogation, that someone else had confessed to him about the murder.

    • Nun's killer used occult symbols, church expert in rituals testifies: No trial today; testimony to resume tomorrow by David Yonke, Toledo Blade Religion Editor, Tuesday, May 2, 2006.
    • This story begins, "A Roman Catholic priest who is an expert in church rituals and the occult testified in the Rev. Gerald Robinson's murder trial yesterday that there were so many occult symbols surrounding Sister Margaret Ann Pahl's murder that he believes "these aren't random acts" but point to a ritual killing designed to mock the victim, the church, and God."

      Later in the article, "The Rev. Jeffrey Grob, associate vicar for canonical services for the Archdiocese of Chicago, said after studying the case he believes the killer had 'professional knowledge' of church rituals. 'A religious sister would have such knowledge. Certainly a priest would have such knowledge. Possibly a seminarian,' said Father Grob, who also is assistant to the exorcist for the 2.3-million-member Chicago archdiocese."

      Below are details of the alleged "occult" aspect:

      When Chris Anderson, assistant Lucas County prosecutor, asked Father Grob to explain the occult symbols surrounding the murder, the priest replied, "Where does one begin?"

      Wearing his clerical garb, Father Grob cited such aspects as the place and time of the murder, the use of an altar cloth to cover the body, the stab wounds shaped like an inverted cross, and the purity of the victim.

      "You're taking someone that's dedicated to God, and every aspect that you can, you're violating," he said of Sister Margaret Ann's brutal murder.

      "We're talking about a woman who had consecrated her life to God, who was the bride of Christ, who was, I presume, in a virginal state, forsaking all others, to be so degraded and violated."

      The murder took place during the holiest time of year on the Christian calendar, in a room where the Blessed Sacrament, which Catholics consider the literal body of Christ, is kept between Good Friday and Easter.

      The altar cloth is normally used to cover the Altar of Sacrifice, an altar over which the priest consecrates the bread and wine to become the body and blood of Christ.

      Father Grob said after looking at crime-scene photos, he believes the killer also used Sister Margaret Ann's blood to make the sign of the cross on the victim's forehead.

      The stab wounds over her heart in the shape of an inverted cross convey two meanings, Father Grob said.

      One, it represents the death of St. Peter, whom Catholics consider the first pope and who was crucified on an upside down cross. Second, he said, "That image has been usurped and is used in Satanic worship and is an affront against the sacred. … It's a reversal. They take something that's sacred and turn it upside down, literally. It defiles the very thing that is sacred."

      Each of these aspects of the murder, if taken separately, could possibly be explained away, Father Grob said. But "the nature of ritual ... is the conglomerate, putting all of those things together."

      But then: "John Thebes, one of Father Robinson's four defense attorneys, asked the priest if he had ever been to another crime scene. Father Grob said he had not. Mr. Thebes also pointed out that forensic investigator Henry Lee testified Thursday that the 31 stab wounds indicated a 'frenzy' killing."

    Upon reading the Toledo Blade articles, one question that popped into my head was whether Jeffrey Grob himself had ever actually used the word "occult." That word is used a lot by the Toledo Blade reporter, David Yonke, but not in any of his actual quotes from Grob, whose emphasis was on aspects of the murder which Grob saw as involving "profanation," "defilement," or "reversal" of things sacred to Catholics. Does Jeffrey Grob - or David Yonke - believe that such "profanation" is necessarily motivated by a belief that one will thereby gain occult powers?

    There could be plenty of other possible motives too, if indeed "profanation" was one of the aims of the killer. The coroner believed that the motive was most likely an intense personal vendetta against the particular nun, in which case the perpetrator's hatred could easily have spilled over into pouring contempt on the nun's spirituality. Another possible motive might be a hatred of nuns in general. Still another possible motive might have been a sexual fetish for blasphemy. (See the article about blasphemy fetishism on my Theistic Satanism site. Note that the vast majority of blasphemy fetishists do not kill people; nor do the vast msjority of Satanists. Also, most blasphemy fetishists are not Satanists, despite their use of "Satanic" imagery. Nor, as far as I can tell, are most Satanists blasphemy fetishists.) The coroner ruled out sexual assault on grounds that there was no evidence of outright rape, but I don't see how that rules out sexually motivated assault by a very twisted man who was either impotent or just didn't have enough time for a full-fledged rape in addition to the murder. Anyhow, another possible motive for the murder and any accompanying "profanation" might be the simple fact that a rigidly religious upbringing has driven many people nuts - and has driven some people more seriously nuts than others.

    On Friday, May 5, I called Rev. Grob on the phone myself to ask if he had used the word "occult." He told me that he had used that word only in connection with his own credentials, not in connection with the crime. I asked him if he believed that the motive for the murder was an attempt to gain occult power. He told me he doesn't claim to know what the motive might have been. Nevertheless, he does consider the murder to have been a "Satanic ritual" and an act of "ritual abuse." (Aargh...!)

    Anyhow, a casual reader of the Toledo Blade coverage could easily miss what, according to other news reports we'll look at below, was the prosecutor's main point in bringing up all this "occult"/"Satanic" stuff, namely a claim that the murderer was most likely someone with "professional knowledge" of Catholic ritual, hence most likely a Catholic priest.

    Let's look now at Court TV's coverage of Jeffrey Grob's testimony: Witness: Nun's killer was expert in Catholic rites by Harriet Ryan, May 2, 2006.

    Here, Jeffrey Grob is identified as "associate canonical vicar for the Archdiocese of Chicago" and "a Catholic priest who studies the occult and consults on cases of alleged demonic possession." The first two paragraphs say he "testified Monday that the murder of a nun in a chapel 26 years ago was committed by someone with specialized knowledge of the church's rites and symbols" and that "the ritualistic nature of the slaying suggested a member of the clergy was the culprit."

    Then: "He testified that the circumstances of the killing, including the use of an altar cloth and an apparent anointing of the victim in blood, indicated a more thorough understanding of the faith than lay Catholics possess."

    Really? If so, what do they teach kids in Catholic school? Given the importance of the sacraments in Catholicism, one would think that any reasonably serious Catholic layperson would know at least as much about Catholic ritual as Rev. Grob told the court in his testimony. I myself am not even of Catholic background, nor have I ever made a point of studying Catholic ritual, but even I didn't learn anything new about Catholic ritual from Jeffrey Grob's testimony (as conveyed in the newspaper accounts and videos I've seen, at least). Admittedly I pay more attention to religious matters in general than most peopld do, but still.... Admittedly also there are a lot of people of Catholic background who have never taken their religion seriously. But would even those Catholic laypeople who bother to attend church regularly be as ignorant as Grob says they are?

    Before going into the details of Grob's testimony, the Court TV article mentioned that, when the murdered nun was found, her "undergarments were pulled down around her ankles and her dress pushed up, exposing her genitals. She had been stabbed 31 times, including nine wounds made through the cloth in the shape of an inverted cross." Then the Court TV article said:

    Asked by prosecutor J. Christopher Anderson to identify ritualistic aspects in the crime, Grob sighed and said, "Where does one begin?" He said that in the eyes of the church, a nun was a virgin wed to God and that by leaving Sr. Margaret Ann naked, the killer was "defiling the bride of Christ."

    He said profaning what was holy and pure was a hallmark of satanic worship.

    "You take innocence and you destroy or mock it," he said. The coroner found she was not raped.

    He testified that the upside-down cross was used in satanic ceremonies as an "affront to the sacred." He said the use of the cloth showed a desire to "penetrate" the holy with the evil.

    He said a bloody semicircle on the victim's forehead might be evidence that the killer performed a perverse version of the sacrament of last rites on Sr. Margaret Ann. The sacrament calls for the head and hands of a dying or gravely ill person to be anointed with oil.

    "It's a reversal. Normally what should be a good Catholic person going to meet God, getting anointed, is now all of a sudden a mocking. [She is] anointed with blood, her own blood," he said.

    Four of the jurors hearing evidence are Catholic. Much of Grob's testimony seemed designed for those panelists who are not. He explained the importance of the Easter season and described the liturgies of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter. Sr. Margaret Ann was killed on Holy Saturday while she decorated the church for Easter services.

    The killer posed her body on the floor of the sacristy, a room off the chapel where the Eucharist is kept in the days leading up to the holiday. Grob said that in the eyes of believers, the murder in the presence of the Eucharist meant the killing occurred in the presence of Jesus.

    Again, nothing particularly arcane, except possibly the bit about the Eucharist being kept in the sacristy.

    In fact, if the prosecution's point is to prove that the murderer was most likely a priest, a far better argument would be that only a very limited number of people would have access to the sacristy. But then again, the murderer could also have been someone without regular access to the sacristy who took advantage of an open door that had been temporarily unlocked by the nun.

    Anyhow, the Court TV news story also says, "Jurors appeared riveted by the priest's testimony, especially as he described his responsibilities in Chicago. Grob, who is completing a doctoral dissertation on the history of modern exorcisms, said he takes calls from people who believe they are possessed and then assists at exorcisms. Asked how many exorcists work in his archdiocese, Grob said about a dozen. 'There is a need for many more, but that is another discussion,' he added."

    Let's look now at the Cleveland (Ohio) Plain Dealer:

    • Expert: Ritual took place in nun's slaying by James Ewinger, Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), Tuesday, May 2, 2006. This article says, about Jeffrey Grob's testimony:
    • He did not say a member of the clergy committed the desecrations or the slaying. But he said the average Catholic would not have an understanding of all the symbols present at the murder scene, that only someone with sophisticated knowledge of ritual would understand them - namely a nun, priest or seminarian for the priesthood.

      But as we have seen, and as we'll see further below, while he did not say definitely that the murderer must have been a priest, his point was indeed that the murderer was most likely a priest, nun, or seminarian.

    • Symbolism and ritual, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), Tuesday, May 02, 2006. Spells out the perceived symbolism again. Yet again, nothing arcane.

    And here is some miscellaneous other news coverage of Jeffrey Grob's testimony:

    • Father Robinson murder trial: No testimony again today; court in recess, WTVG-TV, 13 ABC, Toledo, Ohio, May 2, 2006, contains an Associated Press story from May 1, 2006. "Grob said only a priest, nun or seminary student would understand the significance of the inverted cross and other aspects of the crime scene, including a small streak of blood on the nun's forehead that could have been made by someone forming the sign of the cross on her head." And "In addition to the stab wounds on her chest, previous prosecution witnesses have testified that the nun's body was displayed in a ritualistic fashion with her arms and legs straight. Grob also said an altar cloth placed over Sister Pahl's chest before she was stabbed is viewed as a symbol of sacrifice."

      But then, "Under defense questioning, Grob acknowledged he had never before seen a crime scene and that there were doctors and nurses who may have changed Sister Pahl's position. He also agreed when defense lawyer John Thebes said the blood on Sister Pahl's forehead didn't necessarily mean someone made the sign of the cross."

    • Nun's wounds possibly satanic by John Seewer, Associated Press, via The Cincinnati Post, May 2, 2006. Same as above, plus a few more details.
    • Expert: Inverted Cross On Slain Nun May Be Meant to Mock God, WTOL-TV 11 News, Toledo, Ohio, May 2, 2006. Same as above, plus a link to a video of part of Grob's testimony, plus the following at the beginning of the article: "In testimony Monday at the trial of Father Gerald Robinson, a Toledo police detective said that he spoke with a woman who claimed she was molested as a child by priests, including the defendant. The woman's claims of abuse were never substantiated, but the detective said she suggested to investigators that they look for an upside down cross on Sister Margaret Ann Pahl's chest. According to Detective Steve Forrester, that's when investigators discovered that the pattern of the stab wounds formed an inverted cross."
    • That last news story is accompanied by some videos.

    When I spoke to Grob on the phone, he confirmed that the main point of his testimony was to say that the killer was most likely a priest, a nun, or a seminarian. When I told him it seemed to me that any regularly churchgoing Catholic layperson would be aware of all the aspects of Catholic ritual he mentioned, he didn't explain why he disagreed with me. He told me that nuns and seminarians are laypeople. When I told him that no aspect of the killing required knowledge of anything arcane, and I gave him my hypothetical example of blasphemous graffiti written grammatically correct Latin, he just replied that there are more and less advanced forms of "Satanic ritual." I didn't stay on the phone with him long enough to pursue further the question of why he thinks the killer was most likely a priest, nun, or seminarian.

    (I didn't tell him I'm a theistic Satanist. I just told him I was putting together a web page about the Gerald Robinson trial and that I was calling to make sure I understood his testimony accurately, because I suspected there were some inaccuracies in the media coverage.)

    Why would Grob make the ridiculous claim that only a priest, or possibly a nun or seminarian, would have sufficient knowledge of Catholic ritual to be likely to have committed all the "ritualistic" acts connected with the murder? This would be an excellent question for an investigative reporter to explore. Frankly, I wonder if someone in the Catholic hierarchy might be out to scapegoat Gerald Robinson for whatever reason. Or was Grob just saying what he was paid to say as an "expert witness," without having put much thought into whether it was really true? Or does the Chicago archdiocese have more than its share of very apathetic Catholics who don't know anything about their religion, even among regular churchgoers?

    Was the prosecutor hoping that the jury, and perhaps even the defense attorneys, would be so overwhelmed by the sheer ooky-spookiness of Grob's testimony that they wouldn't even notice how ridiculous it was?

    It seems to me that the killer would most likely have been an emotionally disturbed young man with a heavily religious Catholic upbringing - not a middle-aged priest.

    At least the prosecutor isn't claiming that Gerald Robinson is part of some big "Satanic cult."

    Nevertheless, I've been told that, on May 1, probably as a result of Jeffrey Grob's testimony, there were some sensationalistic TV interviews with people talking about "Satanic Ritual Abuse." Unfortunately, the people who told me about this did not take notes. (Please, everyone, if you happen see such a thing on TV, grab a pen and paper immediately! Please take down the names of the people who are interviewed and their affiliations, plus the name of the TV show and the date/time and network.)

  13. Court TV on how the Robinson trial has given a big boost to SRA believers
  14. Sure enough, in the wake of Jeffrey Grob's testimony, the Court TV website published an article about the "ritual abuse" issue in general:

    This article confirms my suspicion that we are entering an era of renewed SRA hysteria. Indeed, Seamus McGraw goes so far as to say that skeptics are currently in the minority. (I'm not sure whether that's really true among the people who matter most.)

    McGraw quotes the following people who are inclined to believe in ritual abuse allegations:

    • Candace DeLong, a former FBI agent and criminal profiler who spent years as a psychiatric nurse (mentioned on page 1 and page 3 of the Court TV article).
    • Father Robert Hoatson, a New Jersey-based priest who is a self-described victim of abuse as a seminarian, and who is said to be among "those who believe that the case against Robinson in Toledo, which for perhaps the first time provides physical evidence in the form of the apparently ritually mutilated body of a nun, might be the one case that triggers a more far reaching probe into alleged Satanic sexual abuse within the church" (page 3 and page 4).

    The article quotes only one skeptic, sandwiched in between the two believers:

    On page 3, there is a link to an article on the Court TV site about The McMartin Preschool case, by Katherine Ramsland.

    Also on page 3, after quoting Lanning, the Court TV article says, "In many ways, Lanning is a minority voice. There are others, many of them, who believe that the allegations that have arisen in Toledo and elsewhere are credible or at least that they deserve to be the subject of an aggressive and continuing probe."

    On page 4, Father Robert Hoatson is paraphrased as follows:

    So far, he admits, the evidence to support the claims of ritualized abuse is scant, most of it coming from the compelling and often, he says, credible testimony of alleged victims.

    But that was also the case when word of the priest pedophile scandal first emerged, he said. There was reluctance on the part of everyone, authorities, the church, even the families of the victims themselves, to believe that such things were occurring. It took time, he said, until the allegations reached critical mass and only then did the church and the authorities mount a campaign to root it out.

    The same may be true of the allegations of ritual sexual abuse, he said, and it is possible, perhaps even likely, that the case in Toledo may turn out to be the first round fired in that new battle.

    However, if indeed the allegations of ritual abuse were true, then they should be easier to prove - certainly not harder to prove - than ordinary pedophilia allegations. If a bunch of people are abusing kids together, then, as Kenneth Lanning pointed out, the bigger the group, the easier it should be for police to get at least one of them to squeal. Furthermore, a lot of the alleged rituals are extremely messy (killing babies, killing animals, eating eyeballs, putting kids in coffins filled with cockroaches) and thus ought to leave some physical evidence -- significantly more evidence than ordinary child molestation does. Thus the lack of evidence is a far stronger argument against allegations of ritual abuse than against ordinary child molestation.

    Perhaps there really do exist some lone individual pedophile priests who have used relatively non-messy "Satanic" ritual trappings to intimidate the kids they've abused, or possibly as a paraphilia. This wouldn't be too surprising. But I find it much harder to believe that there exist large conspiracies of such priests, or that they've engaged in the messier activities that many "survivors" claim to remember.

  15. The Robinson trial continues
  16. Below is more coverage of the trial:

    The prosecution's evidence was almost entirely circumstantial.

    The DNA evidence strongly suggests that Robinson is innocent. A man's DNA was found under the nun's fingernails, and it wasn't Robinson's. Alas, the man has not yet been identified, as far as I am aware.

  17. Closing arguments
  18. In his closing arguments, the prosecutor did not allege that the murder was a "Satanic ritual." Instead, he claimed that the desecration aspects were most likely intended to humiliate the nun. Indeed this makes a lot more sense, given the apparently frenzied nature of the attack.

  19. The verdict
  20. Despite the DNA evidence showing that Gerald Robinson was most likely not the killer, the jury found him guilty.

    Why did the jury find him guilty, despite DNA evidence to the contrary? I can't help but suspect that the jury was emotionally swayed by Jeffrey Grob's talk of "Satanic rituals" (even though the prosecutor discounted that aspect of Grob's testimony later) and other inflammatory aspects of the case.

    Also, a lot of people are justifiably angry about Catholic Church coverups of clergy pedophilia. Unfortunately, such anger can translate into a tendency to be too quick to jump to the conclusion that particular Catholic priests are guilty of particular crimes.

  21. Aftermath of the verdict

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