Veteran criminal defense lawyer appointed to represent Norristown man facing retrial in 1980 homicide – The Mercury

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NORRISTOWN — A veteran criminal defense lawyer was appointed by a judge to represent Robert Fisher, the Norristown man facing a retrial on charges he fatally shot his ex-girlfriend in 1980, in the event Fisher doesn’t obtain his own lawyer.
Thomas C. Egan III, well-known in Montgomery County legal circles, was appointed by Judge Todd Eisenberg to represent Fisher, according to a court order.
Earlier this week, Fisher, who was set to represent himself at his retrial, sought a delay as jury selection was about to begin, saying he had a change of heart and wanted a lawyer to represent him.
Fisher, 75, who just three weeks ago told the judge he wanted to represent himself after having disagreements with two previous court-appointed lawyers, claimed on Tuesday that he had been in contact with “several people in the legal community” who might be interested in representing him if they are compensated, adding he needed a few weeks to finalize that representation.
Hearing no objection from prosecutors, Eisenberg granted the trial postponement but added he was going to appoint a lawyer to represent Fisher in the interim in case Fisher is unable to hire his own lawyer. Eisenberg is expected to hold a hearing later this month to set a new date for Fisher’s retrial.
Last September, Eisenberg declared a mistrial after a jury indicated it was “hopelessly deadlocked” and could not reach a verdict at Fisher’s retrial in connection with the alleged July 10, 1980, fatal shooting of 26-year-old Collegeville native Linda Rowden, who was Fisher’s ex-girlfriend at the time, as she drove her car along DeKalb Street near Basin Street.
It was the third evidentiary trial for Fisher after his previous first-degree murder convictions, at trials in September 1988 and August 1991, were overturned by appellate courts.
Fisher also is the only person in Pennsylvania sentenced to death three times and each of those sentences also was overturned by higher courts.
First Assistant District Attorney Edward F. McCann Jr. and co-prosecutor Tanner Beck are handling the case.
Fisher, formerly of the 600 block of DeKalb Street, is charged with first- and third-degree murder in connection with Rowden’s death.
During the retrial, prosecutors are not seeking a death sentence, but life imprisonment if Fisher is convicted of first-degree murder, which is an intentional killing.
McCann and Beck have argued Fisher acted with intent when he fatally shot Rowden with a handgun that once belonged to Rowden’s father.
Prosecutors argued an angry 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. Additionally, two days before she was murdered, Rowden reported to Norristown police that Fisher assaulted her.
Fisher immediately fled from Norristown to New York City after the killing, changed his name and took on a new identity, according to testimony. Fisher wasn’t apprehended until 1987 in New York.
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.
But in late 2019, 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 the 1991 trial was “constitutionally deficient” and “fatally flawed” and that Fisher’s lawyer should have objected to the instruction. 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, 2020, sending Fisher’s case back to county court for the 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.
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