Jurors hear slaying details
Attorneys laid out their game plans and 13 witnesses testified Tuesday as the homicide trial of Shaun Fairman opened in Indiana County Court.
Fairman fatally shot his father-in-law, Richard Shotts, early June 3 at his estranged wife’s home along Route 210 in North Mahoning Township. That much is regarded as undisputed truth, the jury was told.
Judge William Martin also instructed the jury they should view more than two dozen other bits of information as facts, not allegations that would have to be proven with testimony and evidence.
Through stipulations — a number of facets of the cases that both sides agree are true — the attorneys won’t have to call witnesses to explain that Shotts, 55, died from a bullet wound of his neck.
No one from the courthouse will need to give proof of the legal matters between Fairman and his wife, who went by Jessica Fairman at the time: She asked for a protection-from-abuse order against Shaun Fairman on May 16 and was given a temporary order that was served on him the next day at Armstrong County Memorial Hospital, where he was undergoing mental health treatment. At a hearing May 22, she was granted a PFA that would last one year. Then on May 30, Jessica filed for a divorce, and Shaun signed for the papers at the post office on June 2.
The jury was told to take it as a fact that Jessica phoned 911 at 12:24 a.m. June 3 to report Shaun arrived at her house in violation of the restraining order.
No ballistics experts will be called to testify.
It’s uncontested that Shaun brought a .45-caliber handgun and a .30-06 bolt-action rifle with him, Richard Shotts was armed with a .22-caliber double-action revolver and Jessica had a gun, too — a double-action .22-caliber revolver.
Tests at the state police crime lab showed all the guns worked the way they should.
Shotts fired once toward Shaun Fairman; Shaun fired two shots from his .45 and one hit Shotts; and Jessica fired two shots, both wounding Shaun.
Those are facts, Martin told the jury.
Traditional trial testimony about the photos taken at the scene, the diagrams made by state police, and the chain of custody of all the evidence from the scene of the shootings — the attorneys will forego that, and let the jury presume the integrity of everything they will be shown.
And Shaun Fairman had a blood-alcohol level of 0.248 percent that morning. That’s a fact, Martin told the jury, the result of a blood test performed at Punxsutawney Hospital about two hours after the gunfire.
What’s mainly in dispute is Fairman’s state of mind when he aimed at “Dick” Shotts and pulled the trigger. It’s the only question at hand, but it’s the one that makes the jurors’ task the toughest in the courtroom, defense attorney Robert Dougherty said.
“The most difficult job, as the ultimate fact-finder, is what you will do right here,” he told the panel.
After a 10-year marriage, Shaun faced the loss of his house, his children and his wife in a matter of two weeks, Dougherty said.
“You have to decide what frame of mind he was in,” he said. Along with chief public defender Donald McKee and co-counsel Aaron Ludwig, Fairman’s lawyers will put up an insanity defense.
Assistant District Attorney Pamela Miller told the jury that Fairman formed a specific intent to kill as all the events unfolded.
Fairman was evicted from his home, was told to have no contact with his wife — who has gone back to her maiden name, Jessica Shotts — and was forced to give up his weapons to the sheriff’s office. Yet he obtained guns, went to Jessica’s residence and shot Richard Shotts, Miller said.
She will ask the jury to convict him of first-degree murder.
Jessica Shotts was the first to testify, telling the jury that her parents were at her home June 2 and helped to prepare a birthday party for the oldest of the Fairmans’ four children.
It happened that the two older kids were staying with a babysitter, and only the two youngest ones were at home.
Dick and Candice Shotts also were there “for my protection,” Jessica told the jury. Her parents slept over several nights on couches in the living room and did so that evening.
She said she woke to the sound of her father’s voice saying, “Shaun, don’t do this,” and testified of her call to 911, hearing a gunshot, running downstairs and hearing two more gunshots.
On the stand, she took some deep breaths.
Jessica described seeing her father lying on the floor. Tears came as she told of stepping over him to get to what she called the cake room, the area at the back of the house where she ran her specialty cake-baking business, and retrieving her gun.
She wept again when Miller asked her to identify scenes from the house shown in photos taken by state police. One of the pictures showed Shotts’ body from the waist down on the bloody floor, his upper body and wound hidden from view behind a dishwashing machine.
Jessica said she ran upstairs and sent her mother with her children up to the attic and said she waited in a bedroom, holding a door closed with her hand while the sounds told her Shaun got into the house and made his way up the stairs.
“He was asking, ‘Where are you?’” Jessica said. “I heard him at the door. I put the gun through and I shot two times.
“He yelled for me to quit shooting, that I had shot him. Then I saw him standing there, with the rifle under his right arm. I told him to hand it to me. I reached out and took it.”
Jessica kept Shaun Fairman at gunpoint until state police arrived, talking to authorities on her cellphone, then answering the police outside when they used a loudspeaker to contact her.
Before the police arrived, “he said to me, ‘You’re going to jail. Look what you did to me. What will happen to your kids now?’” she said. “He asked if I could love him. At one point he said he loved me.”
Jessica Shotts faces no charges for shooting Fairman.
Fairman told Jessica he wanted to go downstairs to check on her father, but she told the jury she wouldn’t let him.
In the weeks leading up to the fatal confrontation, Jessica testified, she encouraged Shaun several times to get help mental health treatment.
Shaun went willingly, Jessica said, and told Dougherty that she did not try to have him committed.
She told state police and a neighbor that she thought Shaun would try to hurt himself and needed help, she testified.
Candice Shotts testified that from her vantage point in the living room, she saw her husband head to the kitchen and heard Shaun’s voice outside on the porch. She heard two gunshots then said Dick Shotts tried to defuse the confrontation.
“Dick said, ‘Shaun, don’t do this, let’s talk about this. I’m going to put my gun in my pocket. Look, I’m putting it in my pocket, let’s talk about this,” she said.
After the gunfire, Candice Shotts said, she fled upstairs and was sent to hide in the attic.
The only light on in the kitchen was a wall lamp, Candice said.
“That light is always on. You can see everything.”
One by one, Assistant District Attorney Matthew Ross questioned a series of state troopers who responded to the scene. They told of being able to see inside the kitchen by the light of the wall lamp, but in cross-examination, some told Dougherty that a motion-activated floodlight on a shed and the illumination from state police car headlights helped them see inside the house.
In all, six state police officers testified of how Fairman acted after being taken into custody.
After being read his Miranda rights, “He said ‘(Shotts) pulled a gun on me first,’” Cpl. Kurtis Rummel said. “He said, ‘I know I have no right to be here. I’m a (expletive), I know.’
“He stated, ‘I stole that gun from a friend of mine, Bill Troup, about a month ago.’”
Rummel said Fairman was coherent but his speech sounded a little slurred.
“He was pretty passive, he didn’t give us a hard time,” said Trooper Christopher Adams. “I could definitely smell the odor of alcohol.”
Adams said he gave Fairman a drink of water on his request.
“He asked about the victim and Corporal Rummel told him. He said he really screwed up,” Adams continued. “He said he knew he wasn’t supposed to be there and had a PFA against him. He called himself a ‘retard’ for doing what he had done.”
Trooper Robert Means said he read Fairman his Miranda warning while they rode in an ambulance to Punxsutawney Hospital.
“Did he appear to be intoxicated? Yes. Did he act intoxicated? No,” Means said. “He told me what occurred inside the residence. … He said he shot Mr. Shotts in the chest with a gun he had stolen from a friend.
“He went to the house to talk to his wife about divorce papers he had received that day. He was greeted at the kitchen window by his father-in-law, who pointed a gun at him. At that time he said he shot him.”
Means said Fairman talked more about it while at the hospital.
“Mr. Fairman told me he was going to hell as a result of shooting his father-in-law.”
A paramedic and an EMT from Jefferson County Ambulance said Fairman had no trouble answering their questions, refused to be put on a stretcher and insisted on walking from the house to an ambulance.
Emergency room physician Erin Bowser said Fairman scored 15 out of 15 on standard tests given to judge his alertness and orientation to his surroundings. A blood sample tested in the hospital showed his blood alcohol content was 0.292 percent, and another sample sent to an outside lab registered 0.248 percent, she testified.
His wounds were not life-threatening, according to Bowser.
Bowser and Debbie Woodle, a registered nurse at the hospital emergency room, testified that Fairman used expletives in talking about shooting his father-in-law and being shot by his wife.
After being discharged at the hospital and interviewed at the state police station in Punxsutawney, retired Sgt. Thomas Cheltgren testified, Fairman told troopers transporting him where to turn to reach the Indiana County Jail.
When they arrived at the jail, Cheltgren said, “He raised his right arm and seemed to be in discomfort. He said he only had himself to blame.”
Ross questioned Raymond Weaver, of Smicksburg, an Amish man who said he worked at Byler’s Harness Shop near Smicksburg and sold a rifle to Shaun Fairman hours before the shootings.
Fairman came to the shop about 11 a.m. to ask how long they would be open, then returned near closing time and bought a .30-06 rifle for $350, Weaver said.
“And then he said if anybody asks who bought this gun, tell them you don’t know,” Weaver said.
On cross-examination, Weaver told Dougherty that he knew Fairman, didn’t require his driver’s license and didn’t conduct a background check on him.
Weaver said he didn’t make a deal with prosecutors to come in to testify in the case.
No charges have been filed against Weaver, but the owner of the store, Noah Byler, of Smicksburg, was charged by state police with selling a firearm without a license.
In a plea agreement with prosecutors, Byler pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and was ordered in December to pay $544 in fines and court costs.
Judge Martin told the jury that Fairman is charged with a general count of homicide, for which the jury could find him guilty of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, third-degree murder or involuntary manslaughter or acquit him.
Fairman also is charged with burglary, four counts of aggravated assault and theft by receiving stolen property.
Earlier this month, Fairman offered through his attorneys to plead guilty to third-degree murder but prosecutors rejected the agreement and Martin on April 17 refused to order the offer to be enforced, said District Attorney Patrick Dougherty, brother of the defense attorney.
The trial is expected to run through Friday. Testimony resumed at 8:30 this morning.