The last remaining crimial charge against the Roman Catholic Priest who spent months accused of being the "Gentleman Bandit" was on the verge of being dropped today as the prosecution's case appeared to dissolve.
Ronald W. Clouser, who confessed to all the Delaware holdups originally laid to the Rev. Bernard T. Pagano, passed a police lie detector test and a voice stress analysis deisgned to show whether he told the truth when he said he attempted to rob a Pennsylvania boutique last Feb. 22.
Prosecutors here said they were still investigating and weren't prepared yet to drop the robbery charge against Pagano, who is scheduled to go on trial here for the boutique crime next Wednesday.
However, a source close to the case said the state is expected to drop the charge against Pagano since investigators have found three witnesses who say Pagano was in Cambridge, Md., on the day the robbery occurred in Concordville, Pa.
The source said prosecutors want those witnesses to take lie detector tests before they close the case.
It was Clouser's dramatic 11th-hour confession last week during the third week of Pagano's trial in Wilmington that vindicated the 53-year-old priest. Clouser said he committed the five robberies and one attempted robbery in Delaware for which Pagano was on trial.
On Monday, Clouser sent a statement to the Pennsylvania district attorney's office saying it was he -- and not Pagano -- who tried to rob Holly's Boutique in Concordville.
However, Sara Howard, the sales clerk who was held up, has consistently maintained that it was Pagano who attempted to rob her. She picked Pagano out of a photo lineup a few months ago. When shown a photo lineup recently in which both Pagano and Clouser were pictured, she again picked Pagano.
Howard said a man approached her in the store's parking lot shortly after it closed and demanded money. She said she had no money with her, and the man said, "I'm sorry" and left.
Pagano was charged with the attempted robbery because it appeared similar to the "Gentleman Bandit" robberies he was accused of in Delaware. In those cases, too, the bandit was usually neatly dressed, polite to his victims and armed with a small, chrome-plated pistol.
After he took the police tests, Clouser said, some people still think Pagano is guilty, but he said, "the public should just accept the fact that [I] made a mistake and [am] trying to correct it."