Letting go: Rita's story doesn't end with verdict

This Just In...

May 13, 1998|By DAN RODRICKS

Everyone else seems to have moved on to other business by now, but David Ruppert is still fixed on the Rita Fisher case. He's still back there with all the grim, wrenching testimony about the abuse and murder of that 9-year-old girl. Ruppert suspects other jurors in the recent trial are feeling the same way.

"Except," he's quick to add, "I was an alternate juror. I didn't get to vote. They did."

Ruppert sat through the two-week trial with three other alternate jurors. They were dismissed before the jury began its deliberations April 28. So Ruppert, for one, never got to say how he felt about the defendants -- Rita Fisher's mother, Mary Fisher-Utley; Rita's elder sister, Rose Mary Fisher; and the sister's boyfriend, Frank Scarpola.

"When we [alternates] were dismissed by the judge, it was like we had no way of striking back against [the defendants]," Ruppert says. "We'd heard all the testimony, but weren't allowed to do anything about it."

Such is the lot of the alternate juror.

"It was as if I had worked on a puzzle and put all the pieces in place, except for the last one, and the last one was missing. You know what I mean? Like you want to take the puzzle back to the store."

Two weeks after the guilty verdicts, Ruppert obsesses about the case. One day, while driving on the Beltway, he got to thinking about Rita again and blew past his exit and four others before realizing the mistake.

"Every free thought I have, away from home and away from work, connects to Rita somehow," says Ruppert, who works the evening shift at the General Motors plant on Broening Highway. "I'm shaking as I talk about it right now."

The abuse inflicted on Rita and her teen-age sister, Georgia, was horrific. When Rita died in June, she weighed only 47 pounds.

David Ruppert, who is 42 years old, has lived with his girlfriend and her three children for eight years. They moved here as a family six years ago, when a GM plant shut down in California. The children, ages 9, 10 and 11, consider Ruppert their father. Each time he looks at his girlfriend's 9-year-old daughter he's reminded of Rita, the sad-eyed girl from that unforgettable photograph entered into evidence.

As graphic as the prosecution's case was, Ruppert says, he waited until closing arguments to make up his mind. There were, however, times during the trial when he wanted to personally punish Scarpola for his crimes against the little girl. "There were times when I wondered what would happen if I went for the guy in the courtroom," Ruppert says. "I actually felt that way at times. He was too cocky, in his demeanor and when he testified. He looked at all of us, like a dead-on stare. During [jury selection] he had looked me dead in the eyes. It was very strange."

Ruppert felt some sympathy for Rose Mary Fisher because she seemed to have been controlled by Scarpola, who had declared himself man of the house. "But at a point, I didn't feel sorry for her," Ruppert adds. "If she loved her sisters, she would have said something to stop [the abuse]."

And what about the mother?

"It was like she had no connection to anyone. Her own daughter [Rose Mary] was sitting right next to her, but there was nothing between them, no love. Like neither one was even in the same room."

In the end, Ruppert would have voted to convict all three defendants.

Though he didn't get to do that, he returned two days later to the Baltimore County Circuit Courthouse for what amounted to a large group therapy session, with a counselor, Judge Dana Levitz, some court employees and all the jurors. "We really needed that," he said. "Everyone spoke freely. Some cried. Some really broke down. Some said they'd had nightmares. Everyone felt we needed to meet again as a group and talk. What we'd gone through was traumatic."

Does he think some good could come of the Fisher case? Will this make people more aware of child abuse in their midst?

"I hope so," he says, "but I don't know. People are so busy with their own lives today."

He's right. We are quick to move on to other business.

This one's a snap

I see where John Shields, the Chesapeake Bay connoisseur who's going to open a restaurant in the Baltimore Museum of Art, has been wrestling for many moons over the name of the place. He wants something more formal than the name of his last restaurant, a California seafood place called Gertie's, after John's Baltimore grandmother.

So how about Gertrude's? That's not only a tribute to John's grandma but to Gertrude Stein, who once lived in Baltimore, who knew the Cone sisters and whose brother Leo inspired them to collect great art, including that of Matisse. The Cones' Matisse collection is the pride of the BMA. (A 1920 painting of Gertrude Stein hangs in a gallery near the Cone wing.) Thus, Gertrude's!

Piece of cake (Lady Baltimore cake).

Hey, John boy, next time call me when you get stuck.

Bad news category

Just what the world needs: Someone's going to build an eight-screen movie complex at Deep Creek Lake... My nomination for the meanest thief: The person who steals flowers off the front porch on Mother's Day... Notice received by parents from a Baltimore elementary school: "Our yearbook orders this year are way down. We have only 85 orders. At the beginning of the school year we took a survey to see how many parents would be interested in ordering the yearbook. We received VTC approximately 160 that were interested in ordering. As you can see, we have less than half [my emphasis] at this time." Come now, it's not as bad as it seems.

Pub Date: 5/13/98

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