NORRISTOWN — A Norristown man convicted twice and sentenced to death three times for the alleged 1980 murder of his ex-girlfriend in Norristown says he wants "a fair” retrial now that a federal appellate judge overturned his previous conviction.
“They violated my constitutional rights again. So, that’s why they have to keep redoing this because they don’t do it by the law,” Robert Fisher said Wednesday after he made his first appearance in a Montgomery County courtroom for his upcoming retrial.
Fisher, now 73, added he wants “a fair trial, by the law.”
Judge Todd D. Eisenberg scheduled Fisher’s retrial to begin Jan. 11, 2021, following a pretrial hearing in December.
His conviction & death sentence overturned, Robert Fisher, 73, says he wants “a fair trial, by the law,” as he faces a retrial in #MontcoPa #Court for alleged 1980 fatal shooting of his ex-girlfriend In #Norristown pic.twitter.com/oZW5KBiNLN— Carl Hessler Jr. (@MontcoCourtNews) February 26, 2020
First Assistant District Attorney Edward F. McCann Jr., co-prosecutor Lauren Heron and defense lawyer Carrie L. Allman declined to comment about the case after the brief hearing.
In the latest twist in the 40-year-old case, a federal judge last year overturned Fisher’s 1991 first-degree murder conviction and 1997 death sentence in connection with the July 10, 1980, fatal shooting of his ex-girlfriend, 26-year-old Linda Rowden, of Collegeville, as she drove her car along DeKalb Street in Norristown.
Three relatives of Rowden also attended the hearing but declined to comment at this time.
Given that decades have passed since Rowden’s death, witnesses and some of the original investigators may have since died or relocated, potentially presenting challenges for prosecutors at a retrial.
#MontcoPa Judge Todd D. Eisenberg sets Jan. 11, 2021 retrial date for accused #Norristown killer Robert Fisher, whose previous conviction & death sentence was overturned by a federal judge, in connection with July 1980 fatal shooting of 26 yo Linda Rowden, of #Collegeville pic.twitter.com/3H5aKnnp9x— Carl Hessler Jr. (@MontcoCourtNews) February 26, 2020
McCann previously said prosecutors were looking into “the status of our witnesses.” If witnesses are unavailable because they’re dead or because they’re incapacitated in some fashion, their notes of testimony from prior proceedings should be admissible, McCann said previously.
If he’s convicted of first-degree murder a third time, Fisher will face a sentence of life imprisonment. Prosecutors have decided not to seek the death penalty against Fisher at the retrial.
U.S. District Court Judge Gene E.K. Pratter overturned Fisher’s conviction, ruling a county judge’s instruction on “reasonable doubt” and an example of the concept the judge recited during a 1991 trial was “constitutionally deficient” and “fatally flawed” and that Fisher’s lawyer `should have objected to the instruction.
Robert Fisher, now 73, formerly of #Norristown, is escorted by #MontcoPa sheriff's deputies to his first hearing for his upcoming retrial on charges he fatally shot his ex-girlfriend in July 1980.His previous conviction & death sentence were overturned by a federal judge. pic.twitter.com/QWHc6B1GKZ— Carl Hessler Jr. (@MontcoCourtNews) February 26, 2020
Pratter wrote, “given the blatant problems with this instruction, Mr. Fisher’s counsel was ineffective for failing to object and there is a reasonable probability of a different outcome in Mr. Fisher’s guilty phase trial.” Pratter concluded Fisher’s constitutional rights were violated by the instruction.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld Pratter’s decision on Jan. 17, sending Fisher’s case back to county court for a retrial.
Fisher’s 1997 death sentence also was overturned with Pratter ruling the aggravating factor relied on by prosecutors at the time was improperly applied.
A federal judge overturned Robert Fisher’s 1991 murder conviction & 1997 death sentence for alleged July 1980 fatal shooting of his ex-girlfriend, 26 yo Linda Rowden, of #Collegeville, in #Norristown.On Weds. Fisher made his 1st #MontcoPa #Court appearance for retrial pic.twitter.com/JwMLMznQqu— Carl Hessler Jr. (@MontcoCourtNews) February 26, 2020
Fisher’s conviction and death sentence previously were upheld by the state Supreme Court and Fisher’s appeals on the grounds his lawyers were ineffective also previously were denied by state courts.
Prosecutors alleged Rowden was killed as she drove her car along DeKalb Street in Norristown and Fisher, a back seat passenger in the car, leaned forward and shot Rowden in the neck.
Prosecutors alleged Fisher killed Rowden to prevent her from giving information to police that could link Fisher to the 1980 murder of Nigel Anderson, a witness who had been scheduled to testify in a federal heroin case.
Robert Fisher, now 73, tried & convicted twice & sentenced to death 3 times, returned to a #MontcoPa courtroom yet again to answer to charges for the same alleged crime - the 1980 murder of his ex-girlfriend In #Norristown. Federal judge ordered a retrial. pic.twitter.com/JRFGLwaMuo— Carl Hessler Jr. (@MontcoCourtNews) February 26, 2020
Fisher, who has categorically denied any involvement in Rowden’s murder, wasn’t apprehended until the fall of 1987 in New York City.
Fisher was first convicted of Rowden’s murder in September 1988 and was sentenced to death. To win that conviction, prosecutors relied on Fisher’s previous conviction in federal court of violating Nigel Anderson’s civil rights.
In 1990, the state Supreme Court overturned the county murder conviction after a federal judge overturned Fisher’s federal civil rights conviction.
Fisher was then retried for Rowden’s murder in August 1991, convicted and sentenced to death a second time.
However, in June 1996, the state Supreme Court, while upholding the murder conviction, ruled Fisher should receive a new penalty hearing because jurors at his 1991 trial were improperly allowed to hear victim impact testimony from Rowden’s mother.
After a new penalty hearing in June 1997, Fisher was sentenced to death a third time.