A 33-year-old northern Indiana County man will be sentenced next month to spend the rest of his life in prison with no chance of parole after being convicted Thursday of the shooting death of his father-in-law.
After two long days of taking in testimony and evidence in court, a jury heard the lawyers’ closing statements then deliberated less than three hours before finding Shaun Casey Fairman guilty of second-degree murder.
Fairman killed Richard “Dick” Shotts, of the Rural Valley area, with a single gunshot about 12:24 a.m. June 3 during a confrontation at the residence of his estranged wife, Jessica Fairman, and their children along Route 210 near Trade City in North Mahoning Township.
Fairman was outside on the porch and Shotts, 55, was in the kitchen, refusing to allow Fairman into the house, when Fairman fired a gun into the kitchen through a window.
Fairman then got into the house and searched for his wife. When Fairman opened a door to a bedroom where she took refuge, Jessica shot him twice in his right shoulder and kept him at gunpoint until state police arrived.
The Fairmans had separated less than a month earlier; Jessica obtained a protection-from-abuse order against him, and Shaun received notice on June 2 that she had filed for divorce. Shaun Fairman had moved to an apartment along Five Points Road in Washington Township, near Creekside.
Fairman’s role in the shooting was never in question and was given to the jury as a fact. The defense team and prosecutors tried to convince the jury of Shaun Fairman’s mental state at the time of the shooting. Most of the testimony in the trial addressed that issue.
Defense attorneys Robert Dougherty and Donald McKee told the jury that Fairman was mentally impaired and intoxicated, and that he should either be acquitted or found guilty of a lower degree of homicide.
Assistant District Attorneys Pamela Miller and Mathew Ross argued that Fairman fully knew what he was doing, and asked for a first-degree murder conviction.
Pennsylvania law allows defendants to claim diminished mental capacity or voluntary intoxication as reasons they are unable to form a specific intent to kill and therefore are not guilty of first-degree murder, but third-degree murder instead.
However, a conviction for second-degree murder doesn’t require proof of a specific intent to kill, only that the defendant took a life while committing another felony offense.
Fairman’s jury agreed with those conditions — that Fairman killed Shotts and committed a burglary by trying to get into the house in violation of the PFA — meeting the definition of second-degree murder.
And the state law does not provide for diminished capacity or voluntary intoxication as defenses against second-degree murder.
District Attorney Patrick Dougherty, the brother of Fairman’s defense attorney, said he expected that decision.
“Quite honestly, at the very beginning of this, we felt the murder-two was appropriate, and I believe the jury found that to be the case,” the DA said. “Trying to get into the house when he was not lawfully allowed to enter the house, and I think the fact that he had two guns with him when he went to the house was a big factor that played into the jury’s mind. So, no real surprises.”
Earlier this month, the district attorney rejected an offer of a plea agreement in which Fairman offered to take the penalty for third-degree murder.
“We would not accept that, we wanted life without parole, so that’s why it went to trial,” Patrick Dougherty said. “There was no incentive here for the defendant otherwise. He might as well roll the dice, and that’s what occurred here.”
Shotts family members and friends quietly rejoiced in the courtroom when the verdict was read. Some hugged each other, some cried. About 20 people, including Jessica Shotts and her mother, watched most of the proceedings.
“They’re very happy with the verdict,” Patrick Dougherty said. “They wanted to extend their heartfelt thanks to the Pennsylvania State Police for the job they’ve done as well as the district attorney’s office for the job that we did for them.”
Family members gathered with prosecutors and their staff when the trial was done, and the DA talked to reporters in the county commissioners’ hearing room on a different floor in the courthouse.
The jurors were ushered into Judge William Martin’s chambers after they individually confirmed their votes on the verdict, and they were not available for comment.
McKee and Robert Dougherty left the public defender’s office soon after the trial and Dougherty did not return a message left at his private-practice law office.
In his closing statement, Robert Dougherty told the jury that the DA’s office had presented selective testimony and did not tell the whole truth about what happened.
There was little mention of the bullet hole left in the wall of the kitchen when Dick Shotts fired a gun at Shaun Fairman, and prosecution witnesses didn’t say how dark it really was in the kitchen, Dougherty said.
In his relatively brief 13-minute final appeal, Robert Dougherty called for the jury to decide that losing his house, his children and his marriage in a short time put great stress on Shaun Fairman. He told the jury that Fairman’s all-day drinking binge and his desire to commit suicide in his wife’s presence prevented him from having an intent to kill anyone.
Miller’s statement to the jury went less than 20 minutes, also a short closing argument compared to those in many past homicide trials in Indiana County Court.
Despite his suicide threats, Fairman took fully a loaded .45-caliber revolver and a loaded .30-06 rifle to the house, she said.
“If it was only supposed to be suicide, why not just one gun and one bullet?” Miller asked.
She said that although Fairman had a blood alcohol content of 0.248 percent after the shooting, his high tolerance to alcohol allowed him to continue to function almost normally. He climbed through the shattered kitchen window without knocking over nearby appliances, she noted.
“You saw his taped interview and responses,” Miller said. “He had his faculties about him. He was coherent. This goes to forming specific intent.”
The video recording of Fairman’s interview by state police may be seen online at http://bit.ly/10h9NhE.
The jury also found Fairman guilty of aggravated assault/causing serious bodily injury, aggravated assault/causing bodily injury with a deadly weapon, and burglary.
Fairman was found not guilty of theft by receiving stolen property. He had been accused of stealing from a friend the gun he used to shoot Dick Shotts.
Martin scheduled sentencing for May 28.