Plea entered in robbery plot

WHEELING – Melody Fisher entered a plea Tuesday of planning and attempting to rob the Elm Grove Pharmacy in May 2012 – a crime that turned fatal when a store employee shot her armed co-conspirator, Kevin Walnoha, inside the business.

Fisher, 41, of Beech Bottom, pleaded to charges of first-degree robbery and conspiracy to commit first-degree robbery. She entered an Alford-Kennedy plea, in which she refused to admit her guilt, but acknowledged that the prosecution had sufficient evidence to convict her of the crimes.

The robbery charge carries a minimum 10-year prison sentence and a maximum of life. The conspiracy charge carries a sentence of one to five years. The prosecution is expected to recommend a 30-year prison term, according to a plea agreement, during a May 15 sentencing hearing in front of Ohio County Circuit Judge James Mazzone.

In exchange for her guilty plea, the prosecution agreed to remain silent during Fisher’s first parole hearing. If she is not granted parole when first eligible, however, the state reserved the right to object to her release at future hearings.

Fisher’s trial was scheduled to begin today in front of Mazzone.

According to Ohio County Prosecutor Scott Smith, Fisher walked through the pharmacy on East Bethlehem Boulevard minutes before an armed Walnoha entered the building around 5 p.m. May 25. She browsed some of the merchandise and asked the pharmacy technicians a few questions before exiting the store without making a purchase.

Walnoha then stormed in wearing panty hose over his head, sunglasses, a baseball cap and latex gloves. He was armed with a 9 mm handgun loaded with a 16-round clip and a single round in the chamber. He demanded prescription pain killers from the two female employees and also ordered the pharmacist to emerge from a back office.

Meanwhile, Fisher was in the parking lot in the getaway car – a green, late 1990s Ford Escort.

The pharmacist armed himself and fired two warning shots into the bottom of the office door, but Walnoha was not deterred. The pharmacist then appeared and fatally shot Walnoha inside the building.

Four of the pharmacy employees were present in the courtroom on Tuesday. They will have the opportunity to address the court during Fisher’s sentencing hearing.

West Virginia State Police Cpl. James Dean interviewed Fisher at her home in Brooke County on the day after the crime. She represented that she got into the car with Walnoha, who she knew to be traveling to a Wheeling pharmacy to buy a prescription, but denied any knowledge of the robbery plot.

The getaway car was found abandoned at the Brooke-Ohio County border on May 27. The vehicle was not registered to Walnoha or Fisher, according to Smith. Police found Walnoha’s cell phone inside of the car, as well as panty hose identical to what Walnoha was wearing over his head during the robbery.

A motorist who was stopped in traffic on the day of the crime later told police she saw Fisher and Walnoha sitting in the getaway car prior to the attempted robbery. Walnoha was wearing panty hose over his head and latex gloves, the witness said.