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Home invader convicted of scaring Peters woman to death

| Friday, Sept. 12, 2008

A Washington County jury took less than an hour Thursday to convict an Arkansas man of murder and 10 other charges stemming from a 2003 home invasion in Peters.

Mark Fisher, 24, faces up to life in prison after being found guilty of killing Freda Dale, 89, who died of a heart attack brought on by fear, and aggravated assault on her husband of 15 years, Shannon Dale, then 90.

Fisher showed no emotion as he watched the jury foreman read each guilty verdict. He was convicted of criminal conspiracy, burglary, false impersonation and two counts each of unlawful restraint causing serious injury, robbery and reckless endangerment.

"I expected it, because of the overwhelming evidence," said Betty Hamilton of Gastonia, N.C., one of Freda Dale's six children.

Two pieces of evidence linked Fisher to the crime scene - his partial thumbprint on an unmarked envelope inside the Dales' ransacked home and his DNA on a cigarette butt found in the snow outside the house.

His DNA was consistent with a mixture of three people's DNA found on duct tape that bound Freda Dale's legs, experts testified. Fisher's attorney, Chief Public Defender Glenn Alterio, said 15,000 white Americans also match that DNA profile. Freda Dale's DNA was on the tape along with that from an unknown person.

Fisher did not testify. His mother, Vicky Fisher, and sister-in-law, Karyl Fisher, testified yesterday he was at home in Texarkana, Ark., on Jan. 29, 2003, arguing with his mother about a friend's arrest they had read about in that day's paper.

"I can't fault the jury. They did what they thought was correct. Obviously, we're disappointed," Alterio said. He said he would review the trial transcript for potential issues to appeal.

Shannon Dale died in February of unrelated causes. Prosecution witnesses testified he told them four men attacked, bound and gagged he and his wife after one approached him in the driveway, posing as a gas company worker. The couple's bedroom was ransacked.

No one else is charged in the case, but Peters Detective Mike Corso said after the trial ended,

"I would consider any of (Fisher's) acquaintances and family members as persons of interest at this time."

Assistant Washington County District Attorney Mike Lucas said police investigated whether the case could be connected to any Travelers, who were linked to home invasions on the elderly nationwide around the time the Dales were attacked. Travelers are groups of people who travel the country, sometimes doing home improvement jobs and frequently committing crimes.

Authorities could not link Fisher to any such group, Lucas said.

Asked if he and his son were Travelers, Fisher's father, Rusty Fisher, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, "I'm what they call an English Traveler. I'm an English gypsy." He did not say whether his son was.

Fisher was not charged until December 2006, after he had been arrested for a similar home invasion of an 80-year-old man in Hope, Ark., and the FBI's national database linked his DNA to that found on the cigarette butt, Lucas said.

Fisher pleaded guilty in that case and has been sentenced to 20 years in prison, Lucas said. The Washington County jury was not told about that conviction.

Rusty Fisher bolted from the courtroom after hearing his son was found guilty of second-degree murder, prompting Common Pleas President Judge Debbie O'Dell Seneca to have deputies escort jurors out of the courthouse.

"This is an emotionally charged situation, and I noticed one family member left when the verdicts were read. Hence, the precautions for the jury," Seneca said.

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