A priest died in prison Friday morning, a day after a federal judge denied his request for compassionate release. The Roman Catholic priest, Gerald Robinson, was serving a sentence for brutally killing a nun in a hospital chapel in 1980.
Attorney Richard Kerger told the Los Angeles Times of Robinson’s death, which was confirmed by the priest’s sister-in-law. Robinson suffered a massive heart attack in May and was making a slow recovery, according to Kerger.
Robinson requested a compassionate release to live his last days with his family, but a federal judge denied the request Thursday. Kerger spoke with the priest after his request was denied and recalled, “He was clearly losing it. He just didn’t seem to be able to follow my comments.”
The priest was convicted in 2006 for the murder of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl, who was stabbed repeatedly in the chapel of the Toledo hospital where they both worked in 1980. The Washington Post notes that the murder case went cold for several years until investigators used new forensic technology to link Robinson to the case.
Kerger noted that, until his heart attack, the priest acclimated well to prison life and even became a counselor of sorts for many of the other aging inmates. The attorney recalled, “When we spoke a couple of weeks ago he said, ‘You know, it may have been what God intended — for me to be down here.’ ”
The priest who died in prison maintained his innocence throughout his trial and lost several attempts to overturn his conviction. Robinson emerged as a suspect two weeks after Sister Margaret’s murder when police found a sword-shaped letter opener in his desk drawer.
He admitted to lying to police and making up a story that someone else confessed to the grisly crime. Still, he was not charged. He was transferred out of the hospital a year after the killing and developed a faithful following in his hometown of Toledo. Robinson was arrested in 2004 after investigators reopened the murder case.
While his attorneys said that DNA evidence didn’t link Robinson to the crime, investigators were able to match blood stains on an altar cloth to the patterns of the sword-shaped letter opener found in Robinson’s apartment.
Even though he was barred from ministry, Robinson remained a priest after he was convicted. In an interview three years after the trial, the priest who died in prison told the Columbus Dispatch that other prisoners called him “Father” and would confess their sins to him.