INDIANA — The district attorney is calling the victim in an early morning shooting a hero for defending his family, even though he lost his life.
"In many ways, (he) is a hero," Indiana County District Attorney Pat Dougherty said during a Monday news conference at the PSP-Indiana barracks. "He was defending his family. I believe that if he
had not been there, we would have had the possibility of more victims on our hands."
Police said Richard E. Shotts, 55, Rural Valley, died after an exchange with his estranged son-in-law, Shaun C. Fairman, 32, Smicksburg, in an incident that occurred around 12:14 a.m. Sunday at the Trade City, North Mahoning Township, residence of Shotts' daughter, Jessica Fairman.
Fairman has been charged with criminal homicide; aggravated assault; and firearms violations, police said.
Dougherty also lauded the efforts of Jessica Fairman, who, before her estranged husband could harm anyone else, shot him twice after she heard him coming up the stairs in the house while her mother and two of her children sought refuge in the attic.
"She was in her residence, and she retreated as far as she could go," Dougherty said. "I think if the Castle Doctrine was meant to apply here, this is just the case."
In Pennsylvania, the Castle Doctrine permits citizens to use lethal force in self-defense in any private place if they feel their lives are in danger.
Lt. Bernard Petrovsky, crime section commander for PSP Troop C, Punxsutawney, said Shotts and his wife, Candice, Jessica's parents, had been staying at her home for the last two nights out of fear for the safety of their daughter and her children.
"The parents were concerned because they knew he'd (Fairman) be receiving divorce papers," he said.
Indiana County Coroner Michael Baker said a protection from abuse (PFA) order had been activated against Fairman May 22, and he received the divorce papers just hours before the shooting.
Petrovsky said Fairman arrived at the Route 210 residence brandishing a 30-60 rifle and a .45 caliber handgun. He said Shotts was armed as well and fired a few rounds, but the sequence in which he did so was unclear.
Police said Shotts told Fairman to lower his weapons, but once Shotts lowered his own weapon, Fairman immediately raised his handgun and shot Shotts through the kitchen window, striking him in the neck.
Baker said the cause of death was internal hemorrhaging due to a gunshot wound to the neck.
Jessica Fairman, her mother and the two children sought refuge in the house as Fairman tried to enter the residence by smashing a window and shooting the knob on a door, police said.
Once inside, Fairman began looking for Jessica Fairman, searching room to room on the first floor before ascending the stairs to the second floor, Petrovsky said.
"She could hear him coming up the stairs," he said.
While his mother-in-law and two children were in the attic, Fairman entered a back bedroom where his wife was waiting, Petrovsky said.
With a .22 handgun she had retrieved downstairs, upon sight, Jessica Fairman took three shots at Fairman, striking him in the shoulder and bicep, Petrovsky said.
She held Fairman at bay with the weapon until troopers from both Punxsy and Indiana arrived a few minutes later.
"She held him at bay for a very short period of time," Petrovsky said, and that after five troopers took Fairman into custody, he was transported to Punxsutawney Area Hospital for treatment and arrested.
In light of the incident that had just occurred in her home, Dougherty said about Jessica Fairman, "I think she showed a tremendous amount of restraint."
Dougherty added that Jessica Fairman will not face charges.
Police believe that Fairman had been drinking during the afternoon before the incident, but added there was no indication yet as to his possible level of intoxication. Petrovsky also said the police had been called to the residence on a previous occasion regarding an argument at the house.
He also said Fairman had taken the handgun from a friend without his knowledge, and that he had purchased the rifle from a second-hand dealer the day before the shooting.
When asked how Fairman could have purchased a weapon with the PFA against him, Dougherty said that information would hopefully be learned throughout the course of the investigation.
A preliminary hearing for Fairman is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Thursday.