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Final moments: Details of what could have happened told in trial

Posted: Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Details about what may have occurred in the last moments of Opal Fairchild’s life emerged from witness testimony on Tuesday as jurors listened to descriptions of the wounds found on Fairchild’s body and of evidence found in her home.

A bullet wound on Fairchild’s head, for example, indicates the gun that fired the bullet was more than two feet away, said Donald Rogers, who was the state medical examiner when the murder occurred and conducted Fairchild’s autopsy.

The bullet that entered Fairchild’s skull severed her spinal cord and ended her life, he said.

The autopsy shows the bullet entered just above and behind her right ear and exited her lower skull behind her left ear.

A bullet wound severing the brain stem would have resulted in a quick death, he said.

Only one bullet wound was found in the autopsy, but the autopsy revealed other wounds: a semi-circular laceration and oval-shaped skull fracture high on the back of Fairchild’s head. Fairchild had scratches on her upper left cheek.

A fall following one of the other wounds could explain the scratches on Fairchild’s face, Rogers said.

When asked by Assistant District Attorney Scot Leaders if the laceration and fracture could have been created by a blow to the head with a gun, Rogers said a wound of this type could result from a blow with the handle of a gun.

Wounds to the head, including lacerations, can result in great losses of blood, he said.

“I’ve seen people bleed to death from a head laceration,” he said.

Rogers did not say whether he believed this laceration resulted in a large loss of blood, but said he would expect a lot of blood to have exited through the bullet wound found in her skull.

He said he would expect blood to flow from a bullet wound like the one found in Fairchild’s head for at least as long as the heart was beating, which in this case could have been as long as four minutes.

Although a blow to the head can result in unconsciousness, forensic evidence cannot determine whether the blow that caused Fairchild’s laceration and fracture left her unconscious.

How a blow to the head affects a person is highly variable, Rogers said.

While only one bullet wound was found in Fairchild’s body, evidence found in her bedroom, where her body was found, suggests two bullets were fired, said Wayne Von Clasen, who was an Alaska State Trooper at the time of the murder and investigated the case.

Both of the bullets hit a wooden headboard backing Fairchild’s bed, damaging a post on the headboard’s right side, close to where Fairchild’s body was found, and in a second location on the left side of the headboard.

Hair and blood samples found on the headboard suggest the bullet that struck the post was the bullet that killed Fairchild, he said.

Testimony on Tuesday ended not with witnesses of the Fairchild murder, but to another crime.

In his opening argument on Monday, Leaders said scientific evidence has linked the Fairchild murder to the violent robbery of Mel Anderson’s woodstove store on March 8,1985, and subsequently, both crimes to Barry McCormack Sr., 55.

In addition, Leaders suggested the Fairchild murder was part of a string of violent robberies that would not end until the perpetrator finally received the large sum of money they sought.

The perpetrator in both the Fairchild and Anderson crimes was obviously interested only in money, since other items of value were not reported missing from either of the crimes, Leaders said Monday.

However, in both crimes the perpetrator chose his targets unwisely, since neither Fairchild nor Anderson were known to have a lot of money, he told jurors.

Tuesday, Marlita Powell, Anderson’s daughter, told jurors her parents recently had suffered from a fire that destroyed their home and one of their two businesses, and that the family’s woodstove business was making very little money.

“There was almost no woodstove business at the time,” she said.

Fairchild trial recap

· Barry McCormack, 55, has been in Wildwood Pretrial Facility since March 2003 awaiting trial for the murder of Opal Fairchild, a 65-year-old woman who was shot to death during an apparent robbery of her home on East Poppy Lane in Soldotna.

· McCormack is charged with one count of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder in the Fairchild slaying, allegedly committed March 20, 1985.

· Bullet fragments recovered from the scene of the murder matched a bullet connected to a violent robbery that occurred approximately two weeks earlier.

· About two weeks before the Fairchild 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.

· Fingerprints found at both crime scenes reportedly matched, but were not linked to McCormack until 2000, when the troopers’ Criminal Investigation Bureau asked the state Crime Lab to conduct a follow-up search to compare latent fingerprints found at the Fairchild crime scene. They matched the fingerprints of McCormack, and subsequent analysis also matched latent prints from the Anderson crime scene to McCormack’s.

· McCormack cannot be charged in the Anderson robbery because the statute of limitations has run out on that crime. No limitation applies to murder cases in Alaska.

· Law enforcement officers continue to look for the possible murder weapon, a Ruger Speed Six .357 revolver with serial number 159-13540. Anyone with more information about the crimes, including information about the gun, is asked to call troopers at 262-4453 or Soldotna police at 262-4455.

· If convicted of murdering Fairchild, McCormack could face up to 99 years of imprisonment on each charge.



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