Seeking justice for victim

Trust: A Baltimore County prosecutor sets up a fund for the housing, medical and educational needs of abuse victim Georgia Fisher.

May 24, 1999|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

After three people were convicted last year of murdering 9-year-old Rita Denise Fisher, prosecutor James O'C. Gentry Jr. worried that Rita's older sister, Georgia -- the other victim in the abusive family -- would be forgotten.

It is Georgia, 17 and tucked away at Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital, who lives with the memories of cruelty that ended the night Rita lay dying in her arms in their locked bedroom.

Now -- in a highly unusual gesture by the prosecutor -- Gentry has established a trust fund for Georgia's housing, medical and educational needs once she is no longer in the custody of the Department of Social Services. She turns 18 in August.

"All of us are responsible when a little girl dies and another is abused. We as a society failed her," Gentry said. "We owe her because we let her down."

Georgia, who is learning disabled, will always have emotional problems requiring therapy and medical services, Gentry said.

"Her future is uncertain and tenuous at best. I don't want her to turn into a woman living on the street," he said.

James Polley, director of government affairs for the National District Attorneys Association, said he has never heard of a prosecutor establishing a trust fund for a crime victim. But he said Gentry's action fits "a new prosecutor mode" of participating more in community activities.

Officials at Sheppard Pratt refused to let Georgia be interviewed, Gentry said.

Georgia's mother, Mary E. Utley, Georgia's sister, Rose Mary Fisher, and Rose Mary's boyfriend, Frank E. Scarpola Jr., were convicted last year of murder in Rita's June 1997 death from abuse and neglect.

Rita would have been 11 yesterday.

Utley is serving a sentence of 75 years in prison, Fisher is serving 30 years and Scarpola is serving 95 years for Rita's death.

Gentry remembers that Georgia weighed 82 pounds when Rita died. Photographs of the older girl shown at trial showed her body covered with bruises.

In the trial, Georgia was the key witness against the trio, the only one who saw Rita's abuse and death first-hand.

Persuading Georgia to testify at the murder trial was a major hurdle for police and prosecutors.

"She was afraid of going into the courtroom. We reassured her there would be sheriffs there -- and they had guns," said Gentry. Even so, the girl fled from the courtroom during her testimony, but returned later to apologize to the judge.

Gentry found many people were moved by Georgia's courage.

"People talked about the case and wanted to know what they could do for Georgia," said Gentry, adding that the secretaries in the Baltimore County state's attorney's office bought food, clothes and toys for her.

Georgia is now in the custody of the state's Department of Social Services. She has been in contact with another older sister, Robin Fisher Longest. Her father, George Fisher, was divorced from Georgia's mother at the time of Rita's death and has not been part of her life, said Gentry.

Since the trial in April 1998, the prosecutors have remained in touch with Georgia and become fond of her.

Georgia now is a happier and warmer person who "remains positive about her future," said Gentry. "She talks about getting out of the hospital, she talks about having a normal life.

"After the trial I told her I wouldn't forget her. I would call her and she would call me and Ann [assistant state's attorney S. Ann Brobst] a lot. She always ended with, `I miss you, I love you.' "

Gentry hopes the Georgia Fisher Trust Fund in Memory of Rita Fisher will assure that Georgia gets the support she needs. It will be controlled by Gentry, who will decide how the money will be spent.

"Georgia has dreams of working with animals or with children. She wants to visit Rita's grave. She thinks about her all the time," Gentry said.

"She feels Rita's with her in spirit. I was able to get a couple of photographs of Rita. I had them framed. She looks at them and talks to her. She says, `She's my best friend and I really miss her.' "

Checks can be made out to the Georgia Fisher Trust Fund, c/o Michael P. Smith, Esq., 143 Main St., Reisterstown 21136.

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