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Man held for trial in murder of popular cantor

William James, a/k/a Jonathan Williams, is accused of stabbing to death Ronald Fischman.

Ronald Fischman, 54, was found stabbed in his home.
Ronald Fischman, 54, was found stabbed in his home.Read more

A FORMER homeless man was held for trial on murder and related charges yesterday in the September stabbing death of a popular cantor.

William James, 33, a/k/a Jonathan Williams, is accused of killing Ronald Fischman, 54, about 11 p.m. Sept. 30, in Fischman's house on Phil Ellena Street near Musgrave, in East Mount Airy.

Fischman was a cantor with the Mishkan Shalom Synagogue in Roxborough.

James had previously lived in Fischman's house, but had been asked by Fischman to leave last year or earlier this year, Assistant District Attorney Joseph Whitehead said yesterday after James' preliminary hearing.

Then, on Sept. 30, James returned and broke into the house through a basement window, Whitehead said. "Ultimately, we don't know his true intent" of why he returned, the prosecutor said.

"He had previously been living in the house with his estranged lover," a man named Gordon Branch, the prosecutor said. Branch, who had also previously been homeless, was living in the house when James returned, Whitehead said.

Whitehead said that when Branch saw James inside the house and noticed that his demeanor was "very angry," Branch told Fischman to call police. Branch then barricaded himself in a second-floor room, the prosecutor said, and James banged on the door.

James went downstairs and got a knife from the kitchen, then went back upstairs and "was confronted by Mr. Fischman, who tried to calm him down," Whitehead said.

Branch, who testified in court, said he heard Fischman yelling, "He's poking me" or "He's sticking me," the prosecutor said.

Fearful for his life, Branch jumped out the second-floor window, then got police, the prosecutor said.

Police who went to the house found Fischman lying on the floor.

On the witness stand, Branch broke down in tears, continually describing Fischman as his friend, Whitehead said.

In court, the defense raised the possibility that James faces mental issues.

Whitehead said prosecutors don't have any evidence to support that.

He said Fischman had allowed both James and Branch to stay in his home out of graciousness.

Municipal Judge James DeLeon held the defendant for trial on all charges - murder, burglary, trespassing and possession of an instrument of crime.