Robert Fisher was convicted of shooting and killing his girlfriend Linda Rowden in July 1980 while she drove her car on Dekalb Street in Norristown.
Prosecutors say based on statements and testimony from a passenger in the car, Fisher was in the back seat. He leaned forward and fired two shots into Rowden’s back and neck.
They say when they car crashed, Fisher walked down an alley with the gun still in his hand, ending up at a friend’s apartment. That friend testified Fisher told her he killed Rowden because she “was running her face to the detectives” and could have implicated him in another murder.
Fisher went on the run and was finally caught in New York in 1987.
He was convicted of first-degree-murder and sent to death row. But the verdict and sentence were overturned when a judge ruled a question asked during jury selection was prejudicial.
Fisher was granted a new trial.
He was convicted by a different jury in 1991 and again sentenced to death. On appeal, the guilty verdict was upheld, but the sentence was overturned. In 1997, Fisher was granted a new penalty hearing and a third jury sentenced Fisher to death.
Montgomery County First Assistant District Attorney Ed McCann said they will not seek the death penalty, but they will re-try Fisher for a third time on first-degree murder, which carries a punishment of life in prison with no parole.
“My personal belief,” said McCann, “is this is a first-degree murder. He intentionally killed this woman because she was cooperating in a murder investigation.”
McCann acknowledged it will be a challenge, but he said they’ve already begun putting their case together while they await a trial date.
“The murder happened in 1980 so it’s not going to be an easy proposition to get it ready for a trial, but we’ll do our best to do that," he said.
McCann said he knows at least one investigator has died and they will have to track down witnesses. If they're unable to locate witnesses, McCann said, "We will obviously try to get their prior testimony admitted, which under Pennsylvania law, that would be admissible under these circumstances.”
The latest ruling vacated the death penalty sentence in part because the law regarding killing a potential witness was slightly different at the time of the murder.
The ruling also said during the penalty phase, Fisher’s lawyer failed to bring in mental health concerns and a head injury from a grenade suffered during Fisher’s time in the Vietnam War. It also said during the previous trial, his lawyer should have caught a mistake in the judge’s instruction to the jury regarding reasonable doubt.