Suspect: Intent was suicide
A homicide trial may be settled today in Indiana County Court, where jurors this morning heard closing arguments by attorneys and started deliberating the fate of Shaun Casey Fairman, who is charged in the shooting death of his father-in-law.
In a flood of testimony and evidence Wednesday, prosecutors replayed a video recording of Fairman’s interview with state police just hours after he fatally shot Richard Shotts; Fairman testified about his growing desire to commit suicide in the weeks before the slaying, and two expert psychiatrists gave their differing opinions about Fairman’s state of mind on the night of the killing.
The lawyers are sparring not over whether Fairman was the gunman, but whether he was cognizant of his actions. One thing the psychiatrists agreed on is that Fairman was not legally insane at the time of the killing. But they differed on whether mental illness influenced him.
Defense counselors Robert Dougherty, Donald McKee and Aaron Ludwig say Fairman was distraught over the breakup of his marriage, suffering mental health problems and intoxicated when he confronted Shotts at his estranged wife’s home along Route 210 in North Mahoning Township.
Assistant District Attorneys Pamela Miller and Matthew Ross are pursuing a first-degree murder conviction, charging that Fairman got a rifle and a handgun and went to the house in defiance of a restraining order that Jessica Fairman obtained, and shot his father-in-law when Shotts wouldn’t let him in the house.
Fairman killed Shotts about 12:24 a.m. June 3, just 14 hours after finding divorce papers in the mail and four weeks after his wife demanded a separation and told him to move out of their home.
In almost two hours on the witness stand, Fairman, 33, said his wife — who now is called Jessica Shotts, her maiden name — was upset about his drinking.
His habit, he said under cross-examination, was about two cases of beer a week and an occasional bottle of liquor.
“I said I’d quit drinking. …” Fairman said. “I said it was not my will (to separate), but I would do whatever it took to make it work.”
A few days later, he moved to an apartment in Washington Township, and on his next visit home to see their children, he testified, he took a box of ammunition from the house.
“I couldn’t handle it anymore. … I wanted to kill myself,” he said.
Fairman said his friends tried to find help for him and that someone had filed for a court order to have him placed in mental health care, but he voluntarily was hospitalized.
“If I didn’t sign myself in, they could commit me,” he said. “It took a while to convince me, but I signed it. I didn’t like the idea of going to a mental hospital.”
While in his third day of treatment at Armstrong County Memorial Hospital, Fairman said, “the sheriff came in the morning to serve me with a PFA.”
Fairman showed no emotion when he testified, and his eyes seemed to be fixed on a point on the floor some distance away from him. He was told a few times to speak up; when heavy rain pounded the courtroom windows, he could barely be understood beyond the jury box and the attorneys’ tables.
In the last couple of weeks of May, Fairman testified, he couldn’t bring himself to go to work and was hospitalized again for depression. He repeatedly told of considering suicide.
On June 2, after signing for the divorce papers at the Creekside post office, he said he visited Byler’s Harness Shop near Smicksburg to check the prices of firearms but didn’t buy one at that time because he didn’t want anyone to see him getting a gun.
He returned to the store around closing time and paid $300 for a .30-06 caliber rifle, according to his testimony.
“That was the gun I was going to use to end my life,” he said.
But then, Fairman said, he decided that it would be easier to use a handgun.
Fairman said he visited a friend, William Troup, of New Bethlehem, and arranged with Troup to take a .45-caliber revolver and make it look like it was stolen.
Troup testified Wednesday morning and said he didn’t know the gun was gone until a few days later, and that Fairman had stolen it.
After his arrest, Fairman also told police that he stole the gun from Troup a month earlier, but he testified Wednesday that he made up the story.
“He knew I was looking for the gun,” Fairman said. “I said I’d take care of it. I said I stole it a month before so he would not get in trouble for the farmhouse incident. He said OK.”
Nothing else was said about Troup’s incident. Online court records reflect no pending charges against him.
The jury was shown the gun and told it was the one used to kill Shotts.
Fairman also said he had been drinking throughout the day.
Jeffrey Faulk, a co-worker and friend, testified that Fairman was “three sheets to the wind” when he came to Faulk’s home in New Bethlehem about 8:30 that night.
They talked and drank beer, Faulk said, and he tried to convince Fairman to stay at his house because he was concerned Fairman would shoot himself.
“He had his mind set,” Faulk said.
After leaving Faulk’s home, Fairman testified, he drove to North Mahoning Township.
“I was going to end my life, at my house,” he said. “I was going to shoot myself in front of Jessie.”
His father-in-law appeared at the window when he knocked on the door, Fairman said.
“I said I wanted to talk to Jessica. He walked to the dishwasher and came back to the window. He pointed his pistol at me,” Fairman said.
Fairman said his memory of firing a gunshot into the doorknob was not clear, but that “seconds later I heard a gunshot. I thought he was shooting at me. I stepped to the window and fired one shot into the house.”
Fairman denied that he could see Shotts or aimed at him.
Then he testified that he put his head through the window frame and saw Shotts lying on the floor. He made his way into the house and looked for Jessica to see what they could do to help her father, he said.
But when he entered a second-floor bedroom in search of her, Jessica shot him twice and ordered him at gunpoint to stay on the floor until police arrived.
In cross-examination, he told Miller that he didn’t stop to help Shotts when he got into the house; he didn’t check for a pulse or call 911.
“I was looking for Jessica to see what we could do for him — anything,” he said.
And he repeated his main intent was to commit suicide.
“I wanted to show her how I felt by killing myself in front of her,” Fairman said.
The combination of factors that night rendered Fairman unable to form an intent to kill, Dr. Christine Martone told the jury. Martone was hired to evaluate Fairman for his defense. A psychiatrist at St. Margaret Hospital in Pittsburgh, Martone said depression, intoxication and suicidal intentions played into his mental state.
She said she formed her opinion in a review of case documents, a 1ﾽ-hour examination of Fairman in July, watching a video recording of Fairman’s interview with state police — which was shown to the jury Wednesday morning — and watching Fairman’s testimony in court.
“He had impaired judgment and impaired impulse control,” Martone said. “He lacked substantial ability to conform his behavior to standards of law.”
Suicidal thoughts drove his actions that day, she said.
“He is highly depressed … and impulsively acted out,” she said. “In my opinion, he did not have capacity to form an intent to commit murder with malice. … He lacked cognitive function of deliberation and forming intent.”
But Martone said he didn’t fit the definition of insanity for a legal defense.
“It is difficult to reach that level without being psychotic. The man did not demonstrate that,” she said.
Dr. Neil Blumberg, of Timonium, Md., who specializes in forensic psychiatry, disputed Fairman’s intentions and said the reasoning behind his actions showed he knew what he was doing. Blumberg, who was hired by the district attorney’s office, agreed that at the time of the shooting, Fairman suffered from major depressive disorder, alcohol intoxication, alcohol dependence and a personality disorder.
Fairman was taken for an exam by Blumberg in March at Lancaster County Prison — “a halfway point” for the two of them, Blumberg said — and they spent five hours in testing. Blumberg said he also reviewed case records and Martone’s report.
In his opinion, Fairman’s condition did not meet criteria for lacking substantial capacity for murder.
“He was clearly capable of thinking, planning and carrying out a design,” Blumberg said. “He received a divorce notice and made a decision to kill himself in front of his wife. That is a plan. He had the ability to premeditate and he followed steps to carry it out.
“He bought a gun, he obtained $325 at an ATM, then decided the best way (to kill himself) would be with a pistol. Even if he had been drinking, it shows an ability to make a plan.”
That Fairman drove to the house with a blood alcohol level later measured at 0.248 percent or greater “without totaling his car,” and with loaded guns, Blumberg said, “shows a great deal of forethought and cognitive ability.”
“I do not believe he suffered from a mental disability that precluded him from carrying out a plan,” he said.
After the jury was dismissed for the evening at close to 6 p.m. Wednesday, the attorneys and Judge William Martin arranged for the instructions that would be given for deliberation.
Guilty but mentally ill, diminished capacity and voluntary intoxication will be proposed as defenses. Online references show the defenses are used to reduce the degree of guilt but not support acquittal of charges.
Voluntary intoxication is not a defense to a criminal charge, but “evidence of such intoxication … of the defendant may be offered by the defendant whenever it is relevant to reduce murder from a higher degree to a lower degree,” according to the Pennsylvania crimes code.
“Diminished capacity is an extremely limited defense … a defendant is attempting to prove he was incapable of forming the specific attempt to kill; if the defendant is successful, first-degree murder is mitigated to third-degree.”
The crimes code also provides that a defendant “who offers a defense of insanity … may be found ‘guilty but mentally ill’ at trial if the trier of facts finds … (the defendant) was mentally ill at the time of the commission of the offense and was not legally insane.”
A defendant found guilty but mentally ill is subject to the same sentence but would more likely be incarcerated in a hospital prison than among the general inmate population.
The jury will have the options to convict Fairman of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, third-degree murder or involuntary manslaughter, or to find him not guilty of homicide; the panel also will deliberate on two counts of aggravated assault and one count each of burglary and “theft by receiving stolen property,” according to Martin’s instruction at the outset of the trial.