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A Montgomery County man on trial for murder told jurors that detectives ‘manufactured’ the case against him

Robert Fisher, 75, said prosecutors have been unfairly targeting him for 40 years.

Robert Fisher took the stand in his own defense Wednesday during his first-degree murder trial in Norristown.
Robert Fisher took the stand in his own defense Wednesday during his first-degree murder trial in Norristown.Read moreJESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

A visibly agitated Robert Fisher took the stand during his trial for first-degree murder Wednesday to loudly and repeatedly declare that he did not kill his ex-girlfriend 41 years ago.

“It was easy for them to pick me, and they manufactured a whole lot of stuff against me,” Fisher said in the Norristown courtroom of Montgomery County Court Judge Todd Eisenberg. “They wanted to convict somebody for this, and I was an easy target.”

Fisher, 75, is accused of shooting Linda Rowden in July 1980 as they drove down DeKalb Street in Norristown. Prosecutors, led by First Assistant District Attorney Ed McCann Jr., have said Fisher shot Rowden, 26, twice because she was an informant for police investigating the murder of a man they believed Fisher had killed.

The trial marks the fourth time a jury has heard this case: Fisher has been convicted twice and sentenced to death three times for Rowden’s murder, but all of those decisions were later overturned by federal judges on appeal.

Fisher — who told the judge he was testifying against the advice of his attorney, Carrie Allman — said prosecutors in Montgomery County have unfairly targeted him for four decades and pressured witnesses to lie about the shooting. He lashed out numerous times on the stand, at one point telling McCann he didn’t like him and saying he wouldn’t get a fair trial because no one on the jury is Black.

Fisher testified that Rowden came to pick him up on the day of her death, but he said he only rode with her for a short time before getting out of the car. He felt ill, he said, from a combination of heroin and alcohol he had consumed earlier that day, and spent the next 10 to 20 minutes vomiting in a nearby alley.

» READ MORE: He was sentenced to death three times. Now, during his latest trial, a Norristown man is again insisting he’s innocent.

He said he did not get into an argument with Rowden over her role in speaking to police, as prosecutors and multiple witnesses said during the trial. But he acknowledged that he left Norristown shortly after hearing that she had been killed, relocating to New York City, where he lived for seven years under a fake name until detectives caught up with him.

“I knew I was going to get railroaded for this, like I was railroaded, and like I’m still being railroaded,” Fisher said.

Prosecutors said that the day before Rowden’s murder, they had issued a warrant for Fisher’s arrest for simple assault, after Rowden told them Fisher had beaten her during an argument. A county detective had met with Fisher and warned him to stay away from her, according to court filings.

During three days of testimony this week, prosecutors relied on transcripts from Fisher’s 1991 trial, reading the earlier testimony of now-dead witnesses to jurors. The accounts of some of the key witnesses in the case were introduced in this way, including the testimony of Richard Mayo, Fisher’s friend who was sitting in the passenger seat next to Rowden when she was killed.

» READ MORE: 40 years later, a Montgomery County woman shares her grief as her sister’s alleged killer goes on trial

Mayo testified in 1991 that Fisher had told him he wanted to see Rowden so they could reconcile as a couple. But after Fisher got into the car Rowden was driving that day, Mayo said, the two began to argue, and Fisher leaned forward from the back seat to shoot her once in the neck with a revolver, and again in the lower back.

Investigators — including the long-retired Robert Swann, who took the stand Monday — found .22-caliber bullets in Fisher’s apartment that were similar to the ones pulled from Rowden’s body. Both sets of ammunition had been altered, Montgomery County Detective Eric Nelson said, clipped at their tip so they could better fit into the cylinder of the gun.

When questioned by McCann, Fisher admitted he had a .22-caliber revolver around the time of the shooting, a gun he said Rowden had given to him.

But he said he didn’t shoot her.

“There’s a lot of .22-caliber guns,” he said.

His testimony marked the second time Fisher took the witness stand in his own defense. He offered the same account to jurors at his 1991 trial, but was convicted.

This trial is expected to close early Thursday.