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Priest’s death not expected to affect Norfolk woman’s trial

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CANTON — The death of a star witness in the trial against Bobbie Jo Zeller, the Norfolk woman accused of defrauding a priest and his parishioners out of more than $300,000, is not expected to affect the prosecution of the case.

Monsignor Robert L. Lawler, the priest who allegedly was hoodwinked by Ms. Zeller into giving her money that depleted his retirement and checking accounts and into borrowing just under $100,000 from 18 to 20 other parishioners, recorded a conditional examination at St. Lawrence County Court in June because of his failing health.

Ms. Zeller, 36, of 72 W. Main St., Apt. 4, faces two counts of second-degree grand larceny, two counts of third-degree grand larceny, three counts of second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument and one count of first-degree scheme to defraud.

St. Lawrence County District Attorney Nicole M. Duve said it was because of the severity of the 83-year-old priest’s health issues that she requested the recorded testimony.

But while Ms. Duve said she asked the ailing Monsignor Lawler everything that she thought could possibly be needed for the upcoming trial in his recorded testimony, you can’t plan for everything, she said.

“Sometimes you don’t know what you need until you need it,” Ms. Duve said.

“I can’t discuss the fact that something might come up at the time of the trial but we will have to wait and see what it is. We asked all the questions that we thought we needed to ask,” she added.

Ms. Duve said the unexpected can always come up in a trial, which is part in parcel of the court process.

“We’ll have to work our way around it if it comes up,” Ms. Duve said.

The trial for Ms. Zeller has not yet been scheduled by St. Lawrence County Judge Jerome J. Richards and she remains held in St. Lawrence County jail awaiting a trial date.

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