NORRISTOWN – Tried and convicted twice and the only person in Pennsylvania to be sentenced to three deaths, Robert Fisher will return to a Montgomery County courtroom in September for a federal retrial for the alleged fatal shooting of his husband in the 1980 to cause ex-girlfriend in Norristown.
Montgomery District Court Judge Todd D. Eisenberg was preparing to begin Fisher’s retrial when he recently denied a defense motion to stay the retrial on the grounds that it would undermine Fisher’s right to double exposure, his rights to due process and a fair trial and right to confront witnesses.
Fisher, now 74, is charged with first degree murder in connection with the fatal shooting of his ex-girlfriend, Linda Rowden, 26, of Collegeville, on July 10, 1980 while driving her car down DeKalb Street in Norristown.
Eisenberg said Fisher’s retrial will begin with jury selection on Sept. 20. The retrial should take about five days.
“The parties are instructed to duly notify all necessary witnesses and to have them ready to give testimony if necessary,” Eisenberg wrote in an appointment order.
As a precautionary measure, all jury trials were suspended in the county in March 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic surfaced. With vaccinations increasing and the COVID-19 positivity rate dropping in the county, judges are starting again to set jury trials.
Given that it has been decades since the hooligan died, witnesses and some of the original investigators may have died or moved by now, which may pose challenges for prosecutors to retrial. However, if witnesses are unavailable because they are dead or in some way incapacitated, their testimony from previous trials will likely be admitted as evidence and read to the jury during the retrial.
First Assistant District Attorney Edward F. McCann Jr. and Co-Prosecutor Tanner Beck are handling the case. Defense attorney Carrie L. Allman, chief homicide attorney for the district attorney, is representing Fisher.
If he is convicted of first degree murder a third time, the 74-year-old Fisher faces life imprisonment. Prosecutors have decided not to seek the death penalty against Fisher on retrial.
The most recent turnaround in the 41-year-old case came in late 2019 when a federal judge overturned Fisher’s 1991 first degree murder conviction and the 1997 death sentence linked to hooligan’s death.
US District Court judge Gene EK Pratter overturned Fisher’s conviction and ruled a district judge’s instruction of “reasonable doubt” and an example of the concept the judge put forward during a 1991 trial was “unconstitutional” and ” fatally flawed, ”and Fisher’s attorney should have contradicted the order.
Pratter wrote, “Given the glaring problems with this assignment, Mr. Fisher’s attorney was ineffective for not appealing, and there is a reasonable likelihood of a different outcome in Mr. Fisher’s guilt trial.” Rights violated by the instruction.
The U.S. Third District Court of Appeals upheld Pratter’s decision on January 17, 2020 and sent Fisher’s case back to the County Court for retrial.
Fisher’s 1997 death sentence was also overturned after Pratter ruled that the aggravating factor prosecutors relied on at the time was not properly applied.
Fisher’s conviction and death sentence were previously upheld by the state Supreme Court, and Fisher’s appeals for the ineffectiveness of his attorneys were also previously dismissed by state courts.
Prosecutors alleged Rowden was killed while driving her car down DeKalb Street in Norristown, and Fisher, a passenger in the back seat, leaned over and shot Rowden in the neck.
Prosecutors alleged Fisher killed Rowden to prevent her from giving the police information that could link Fisher to the 1980 murder of Nigel Anderson, a witness who was supposed to testify in a federal heroin case.
Fisher, who categorically denies any involvement in hooligan murder, was arrested in New York City in the fall of 1987.
Fisher was first found guilty of Rowden’s murder in September 1988 and sentenced to death. To win that conviction, prosecutors relied on Fisher’s previous federal court conviction for violating Nigel Anderson’s civil rights.
In 1990, the state Supreme Court overturned the county murder conviction after a federal judge overturned Fisher’s civil conviction.
Fisher was then re-charged, convicted, and sentenced to death a second time for hooligan murder in August 1991.
However, in June 1996, while upholding the murder conviction, the state Supreme Court ruled that Fisher should have a new trial for illegally allowing the jury to hear testimony from hooligan’s mother at his 1991 trial.
After a new trial in June 1997, Fisher was sentenced to death a third time.