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Guilty

McCormack convicted of Opal Fairchild murder

Posted: Thursday, May 25, 2006

Barry McCormack was found guilty by a Kenai jury Wednesday of the murder of Opal Fairchild in her home more than 21 years ago.

The jury began deliberations at about 11:30 a.m. and returned to the courtroom by about 3:30 p.m. with a verdict against McCormack for both first- and second-degree murder.

“I think Barry McCormack got just exactly what he deserved,” said Alice Fairchild, Opal Fairchild’s daughter-in-law. “It’s just a shame we can’t do away with him the same way my mother-in-law was done away with. Alaska needs the death penalty.”

Alice has at-tended the entire trial and said she feels free again now that a suspect has been convicted.

“We lived for all of those years without knowing who did it so, you suspect everyone,” she said.

Juror Donald VanLith said the jury questioned the credibility of some of the witness testimony due to the long passage of time, but generally agreed that the physical evidence, such as latent fingerprints linking McCormack to the murder, was strong.

“Everyone was surprised they got as good of prints as they did,” VanLith said.

Assistant District Attorney Scot Leaders said the jury’s quick decision demonstrates the state had a strong case and credited the hard work of law enforcement officials in-volved in the case.

Assistant Public Attorney Margaret Moran could not be reached for comment.

In closing arguments Wednesday morning, however, Moran told jurors they should disregard some of the evidence and testimony presented during the trial because it was either weak or irrelevant to the case.

“You’ve been presented evidence that allows you to consider other events besides the event for which Mr. McCormack is being tried,” she said.

Although McCormack was only on trial for the murder of Fairchild, jurors were presented with evidence concerning three crimes that occurred in March 1985 — the Fairchild murder and two violent robberies.

Leaders said evidence from the two robberies was relevant because it helped establish the identity, intent and motive of Fairchild’s murderer.

He said similarities be-tween the Fairchild murder and the violent robbery of Mel Anderson at his woodstove store, for example, showed the perpetrator in each of the crimes used the same tactics and was, in fact, the same person.

“Remember where Mel Anderson was shot? The back of the head,” he said as he cupped a hand just above the back of his neck, “And remember Miss Opal. Again, shot in the back of the head.”

The motive behind each of the crimes, money, and intent behind each of the shootings, to eliminate witnesses, was also the same, he said.

“He went there to steal money, he went there to rob her,” Leaders said of the Fairchild murder. “(But) the killing was not necessary to commit the robbery. The killing was necessary to eliminate her as a witness.”

Moran said Leaders was erroneously trying to make insignificant similarities between the crimes sound significant.

It’s not unusual, for example, for money to be the motive in a robbery, she said.

And testimony suggesting McCormack may have known the shooting of Fairchild was committed with a handgun is also insignificant, as robberies are rarely committed with a rifle, she said.

“It’s common to take bills and it’s common for a robbery to be committed with a handgun,” she said.

Latent fingerprints recovered from the Anderson and Fairchild crime scenes also do not tell the jury much, she said.

“What you have at Mel Anderson’s is a thumbprint made at an unknown time,” she said.

Moran disputed witness testimony identifying McCormack as a match to latent fingerprints found at the Anderson and Fairchild crime scenes. But even if the latent fingerprints did belong to McCormack, jurors still did not have enough to conclude he was in either Anderson’s woodstove store or Fairchild’s house when the crimes occurred.

Moran said the latent fingerprints found at Opal’s house, for example, could have been made without McCormack having to enter the house.

The two fingerprints were found on a newspaper, dated March 20, 1985, the day of Fairchild’s death, and on a piece of notepaper that had apparently been inside her purse.

A third fingerprint was found inside the cash register drawer in Anderson’s woodstove store.

But even if the fingerprints do belong to McCormack they do not connect him to the shots fired at either of the crime scenes, Moran said.

“You have three bullets and three fingerprints, but you don’t have a match between the fingerprints and the bullets,” she said. “Showing that a person touched those items, or may have even touched those items when they were in the residence is not sufficient to find that Barry McCormack actually killed someone,”

Finally, Moran also at-tacked evidence linking McCormack to a Safeway robbery that occurred in Soldotna nine days after the Fairchild murder.

She said investigators were eager to make a conviction and pressured nervous in-laws to implicate McCormack in the robbery and claim he had confessed to the murder.

However, Leaders said testimony from witnesses claiming McCormack had been involved in the Safeway robbery and Fairchild murder corroborated with evidence found by investigators to have just been the result of guesswork.

In addition, the Safeway robbery helps explain why, a usually quiet community suddenly experienced three violent crimes all within less than a month, and why that streak of crimes ended with the Safeway robbery, he said.

“This rash, this outbreak of three violent robberies in a roughly three-week period was something the community had not faced before, and after that $10,000 score at Safeway it ended,” he said.

He said McCormack committed all three crimes in a desperate search for money, but received very little money after robbing Anderson and Fairchild.



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