Photo by M. Scott Moon
Barry McCormack will likely spend the rest of his life behind bars for the murder of Opal Fairchild 21 years ago.
Convicted last spring by a Kenai Jury, the 56-year-old McCormack appeared in a Kenai courtroom Tuesday to hear Judge Charles T. Huguelet hand down a sentence of 99 years without parole.
His attorney, Public Defender Margaret Moran, could not be reached Tuesday evening for comment, but reportedly has said appeals of the conviction and the sentence were planned.
On May 24, 2006, a jury took just four hours to find McCormack guilty of the 20-year-old murder. McCormack became a suspect after fingerprints required for a bus-driving job in the 1990s were later matched to latent fingerprints found in Fairchild’s house.
McCormack was living in Oregon at the time of his arrest in 2003. He was charged with both first- and second-degree murder for allegedly shooting the 65-year-old Fairchild during a robbery attempt at her home on Poppy Lane in Soldotna on May 20, 1985. He awaited trial in Wildwood Pretrial Facility.
Evidence in the case included the fingerprints, as well as bullet fragments recovered at the scene. Those fragments also matched a bullet found at the scene of a violent robbery that had occurred about two weeks earlier in Sterling.
In that incident, storeowner Melvin Anderson was robbed at gunpoint and survived a shot to the head. His as-sailant fled with about $500 in cash.
Fingerprints found at the Sterling scene were subsequently matched with those lifted at Fairchild’s house, but their connection to McCormack was not made until 2000.
McCormack was never charged in the Sterling case, however, because the statute of limitations had run out. No such limitation exists for murder cases in Alaska.
During the trial, Assistant District Attorney Scot Leaders presented evidence from the Sterling incident to support allegations that the perpetrator had used similar tactics.
Both victims were robbed and both Anderson and Fairchild had been shot in the same manner in the back of the head.
Leaders also brought up evidence from a third case this one a $10,000 robbery at Safeway in Soldotna that took place nine days after Fairchild’s murder. Leaders said McCormack had committed all three crimes in a desperate search for cash.
At trial, Moran attempted to downplay the significance of the similarities, saying money was not an unusual motive in a robbery. She also argued that even if fingerprints had belonged to her client, there was still no proof McCormack had been in either location when the crimes occurred, nor, she said, did they connect him to the shootings.
Following the conviction, one juror noted that the credibility of some witnesses had been questioned, primarily because of the length of time since the crime had occurred. However, he also said jurors generally agreed that the physical evidence, including the latent fingerprints, had been strong.
Following the conviction, Alice Fairchild, Opal Fairchild’s daughter-in-law, told the Clarion, “I think Barry McCormack got just exactly what he deserved,” adding that, “We lived for all of those years without knowing who did it, so you suspect everyone.”
Assistant District Attorney Scot Leaders could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.
However, following the conviction last spring, he told the Clarion that the jury’s quick decision showed the state’s strong case. He credited the hard work of law enforcement officers.
Reportedly, McCormack has also been charged in an unrelated Kansas killing.
Hal Spence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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