A Superior Court judge this afternoon postponed until Thursday a decision on whether to drop armed robbery charges against the Rev. Bernard T. Pagano, whose trial here was dramatically halted yesterday when another man indicated that he was the "Gentleman Bandit."
Judge Andrew Christie gave no explanation for the delay, but state police investigators said it would give them time to examine the claims of the Pennsylvania man, 39-year-old Ronald W. Clouser, that he was "involved" in the crimes for which Pagano was being tried.
Sources close to the case said tonight that Clouser had failed three polygraph tests administered today in an effort to determine whether he was telling the truth. The results of such tests are subject to error, and the sources said further examination of Clouser's claims is planned for Wednesday.
Clouser, a U.S. Postal Service employe, pleaded guilty last May to three armed robberies in nearby Delaware County, Pa. Those robberies, according to investigators, were similar in nature to the six robberies for which Pagano was charged. In both cases, the bandit was neatly dressed and polite -- which led to his being known as the "Gentleman Bandit" -- and brandished a small chrome-plated pistol.
A search of Clouser's home in Brookhaven, Pa., produced a quantity of clothing, but none that matched the description of clothes worn by the "Gentleman Bandit," according to a source close to the case.
Yesterday afternoon, just as Pagano's attorneys were about to begin their defense, Christie startled the courtroom audience by announcing he had received word that another man had "confessed" to the Wilmington robberies. Clouser and his attorney then traveled here and in an unusual court hearing said Clouser was "involved" in the crimes and Pagano should be exonerated.
Pagano and Clouser both were in the courthouse today, crossing each other's paths outside the judge's chambers as Christie discussed the unusual case with defense and prosecution attorneys. As the closed meeting dragged on, reporters and onlookers debated whether or not the two men actually look alike and the extent to which each man appeared to fit the description police had circulated earlier this year of the "Gentlemen Bandit."
Clouser is similar in stature to Pagano and, like the priest, has a long, think face and prominent nose. But unlike Pagano, Clouser has a full head of hair. The "Gentleman Bandit," however, always wore a hat.
Pennsylvania police found a hat among Clouser's possessions, according to a source, but it was tan, unlike to dark hat described by witnesses to the "Gentleman Bandit" holdups.
Clouser, who has not been charged with the Wilmington robberies, is free on $5,000 bond pending his sentencing for the Pennsylvania holdups.
Det. Thomas J. Shannon of the Delaware State Police said police have always felt we had the right man in Father Pagano."
Clouser spent about six weeks in the Eastern Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute in Philadelphia earlier this year, police said. They said Clouser left the institution in July.
Chief George Hill of the Springfield Township, Pa., police said an invesitgator for Pagano's defense attorneys came to him about 10 days ago and began asking questions about Clouser. Hill said his department had a composite drawing of the suspect in the robberies for which Clouser was charged and it virtually matched the composite of Delaware's "Gentleman Bandit."
In addition, the Pennsylvania police recovered a chrome-plated pistol that they said Clouser had used in the armed robberies there. Delaware police investigating the Pagano case had never recovered the weapon used by the "Gentleman Bandit."
For most of today, Clouser, sporting a deep tan, sat outside the judge's chambers chain-smoking cigarettes. Occasionally he picked up a cardboard folder bulging with papers and asked a sheriff to walk him through a throng of reporters so he could be alone in one of the courthouse rooms.