PHILADELPHIA -- A doctor convicted of murdering a friend in 1976 so he could marry the man's wife, claiming the death was an accident, is back in prison after the state's highest court ruled that the delay in prosecuting him was his own fault.
Dr. Stephen Scher flew from North Carolina to Wilkes-Barre, where he turned himself in to waiting state police Thursday afternoon. He was taken immediately to the state prison in Waymart.
He was convicted in 1997 and sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole in the 1976 death of lawyer Martin Dillon. He had originally claimed that Dillon, 30, accidentally shot himself while chasing a porcupine on a skeet shoot.
He was freed on bail in 1999 when an appellate court ruled that prosecutors had deprived him of a fair trial by waiting 20 years to charge him. But the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned that ruling Tuesday, saying that Scher himself caused the delay by claiming the death was accidental and that the loss of evidence over the two decades was not significant.
"Although it took over two years for the courts to finally decide, I am certainly happy that he will be returning to prison. I fought as hard as I could to get him back," said Attorney General Mike Fisher.
Scher has additional appeals pending in state court, but must remain in prison while he waits for them to be heard, authorities said.
Married after two years
Two years after the death, Scher and Dillon's widow, Patricia, married. They later admitted that they had been having an affair at the time her husband died.
Prosecutors reopened the investigation in the 1990s after being pressured to do so by Dillon's father. Scher was finally charged in 1996, and, confronted with new evidence that cast doubt on his original account, admitted during his trial that he had made up the porcupine story.
Taking the stand in his own defense, Scher claimed that Dillon found out he was having an affair with his wife and became angry, and the gun went off accidentally during a struggle.
He admitted that he untied one of Dillon's shoes and placed the gun next to his head to make it appear that he had tripped, claiming he was afraid that if people found out about the affair, they wouldn't believe the shooting was an accident.
A jury didn't buy it and convicted him of first-degree murder.
His Wilkes-Barre attorney, John Moses, was traveling with Scher on Thursday and did not immediately return a phone call. Family members at Scher's home in Dallas, N.C., declined to comment.
Dillon's two children, Suzanne and Michael, contributed $65,000 from their father's life insurance police toward their stepfather's defense and offered to testify on his behalf at trial.
"He's the only dad I have ever known," the daughter testified at a 1996 bond hearing. "That's what you do for your family."