A jury in the murder trial of Barry McCormack Sr. listened to opening arguments and testimony from four witnesses in Kenai Superior Court on Monday.
McCormack, 55, has been accused of killing a 65-year-old Soldotna woman 21 years ago.
On March 20, 1985, Opal Fairchild was shot to death in an apparent robbery of her home on East Poppy Lane in Soldotna shortly before she was about to leave for her grandson’s 6-year-old birthday party.
Investigators matched a bullet and latent fingerprints found at the scene of the murder with those found at a robbery that occurred approximately two weeks prior to the murder, but never recovered the weapon and did not link the fingerprints to McCormack until 2000.
However, in his opening argument on Monday, Assistant District Attorney Scot Leaders told jurors that the silent, scientific evidence revealed since the murder occurred indicates McCormack is responsible for Fairchild’s death. And Leaders suggested the murder was part of a string of violent robberies that would not end until the perpetrator finally got the large sum of money they were seeking.
In the robbery that occurred two weeks prior to the murder, Melvin Anderson was robbed at gunpoint in his woodstove retail store in Sterling. He was shot once in the head by the robber, who fled with about $500 from the cash register. Anderson survived the shooting.
The purpose behind the shot fired in the Anderson robbery and the Fairchild murder was the same, Leaders said.
“The shot was for one purpose, to eliminate the witness to the robbery,” he said.
But Public Defender Margaret Moran questioned the evidence that matched the bullets between the two robberies and other evidence linking the two crimes to each other and McCormack.
“I think you will find at the end of the case that there are a lot of things that are unexplained,” she said.
She said claims that Fairchild’s murderer had to be a stranger, for example, were inconsistent with suggestions that the murderer must have been familiar with Fairchild’s routine.
Family members who testified on Monday said that, although Fairchild was retired, she followed a very consistent weekday routine that included baby-sitting her 6-year-old grandson, visiting the post office and shopping for household needs.
And Fairchild was never late. So when Fairchild had still not arrived at her daughter’s house for the birthday party 30 minutes after the party was due to begin at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 20, her family became concerned.
Marie Wynia said that when her mother was late to her son’s birthday party she worried her mother may have slid into a ditch while driving. Fairchild had just purchased a new truck that did not handle well on slippery roads, she told jurors.
Marie’s husband, Dennis Wynia, and brother-in-law Gordon Wilkins hopped into a vehicle to search for Fairchild, but would not find her until they got to her house.
When they arrived at the yellow ranch-style home where the widow lived in alone, one of the two garage doors was open and they could see Fairchild’s black truck still parked inside. And although it was growing dark, none of the lights in Fairchild’s home were on.
Fairchild’s sons-in-law entered the house and called for her, but there was no response.
“I knew there was something wrong at that time,” Dennis Wynia said. “Something just didn’t seem right.”
Upon entering Fairchild’s bedroom, Wynia and Wilkins found her leaned up against her bed with her head resting on a nightstand next to a pool of blood.
Wilkins grabbed Fairchild and set her down on the floor next to her bed after he realized there was nothing he could do to help her, he said.
Soldotna post Alaska State Troopers received Wilkins’ call reporting the murder at 7:53 p.m., arrived at 8:06 and found Fairchild wearing a pair of pants, slippers and blouse, and laying on her right side next to her bed where Wilkins had left her, said Tom Sumey, who was a Soldotna post trooper at the time of the murder and responded to the call.
In addition to the blood that had pooled on the nightstand, blood was also found in the middle of Fairchild’s bed and splattered on a wall and nearby window, he said.
“On the wall behind the the lamp (on the nightstand) all the way up to the ceiling there were flecks of blood,” he said.
Sumey said blood also covered Fairchild’s face and matted her hair.
But despite the grisly scene in Fairchild’s bedroom, the rest of her house was found mostly undisturbed.
“The house didn’t appear to be ransacked,” Sumey said.
Just two things were found distinctly out of place, witnesses said: Fairchild’s partially emptied purse on the dinning room table and a Slice soda can found resting on a stereo cabinet in the living room.
Family members said Fairchild was meticulous with her things and did not allow food and drink outside of the kitchen or dinning room, and certainly would not have set a soda can on a stereo cabinet without placing something under it.
No valuable items where found missing from the house, other than what was likely a small sum of money from Fairchild’s purse, Leaders said.
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