By Carol McIntire
CARROLLTON – As Judge Dominick E. Olivito Jr. read the verdict in the Kenneth Blanchard murder trial, Blanchard showed no emotion as he sat at the defense table, his hands folded. Michael Fairchild’s mother sobbed as she sat in the gallery.
Blanchard was found not guilty of murdering Fairchild Aug. 31, 2016, at a mobile home in Minerva by a jury of eight women and four men, who deliberated for about 10 hours. They received the case last Friday morning at the conclusion of closing arguments, about 10:30 a.m. They sent a note to Judge Olivito at 4:18 p.m. asking for deliberations to be recessed until Monday “due to juror No. 11 having to prepare for and attend a graduation party.” The request was granted.
Deliberations resumed Monday morning at 9:03 a.m. and concluded when the verdict was reached early in the afternoon.
“I never thought for a minute he’d be found guilty,” said Defense Attorney Jeff Jakmides. I thought he was innocent from day one. I don’t know if the jury felt it was self-defense or if they didn’t think the prosecution didn’t prove he was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. I told the jurors in closing arguments they didn’t have to agree on why he was not guilty, just that he was not guilty.”
“We knew going in it was going to be a close case, but the jury had to decide the case,” said Prosecuting Attorney Steve Barnett. “We presented our case in the best light possible.”
In the hall following the verdict, the 69-year-old Blanchard received a hug from his wife, Nancy, who said her heart goes out to the Fairchild family.
“We feel their loss. We are going through the same thing,” she said.
The Blanchard’s daughter, Kenzie, died of a heroin overdose April 2, 2017. She and Michael Fairchild had a child together.
The trial began Monday with jury selection and was continued until Wednesday to give Jakmides a day to get over an illness.
During opening statements Wednesday, Barnett told the jury the case was not a case of “who done it by any means” because Blanchard admitted he shot Fairchild. He said Blanchard climbed a ladder into the back door of a trailer at 323 Valley St., Minerva, and shot Fairchild with a 9mm handgun.
The defense claimed it was a case of self defense, saying Blanchard drove by the trailer earlier in the day Aug. 31, saw the back door open, thought someone had burglarized the trailer, went home and got a gun and returned to the trailer to check. He said as Blanchard was checking the inside of the trailer, Fairchild lunged at him and Blanchard shot him.
Jakmides, who was assisted by Atty. Stephen Kandel, called three witnesses:
Dr. James Pritchard, Francis Smith and Ed Smith.
Dr. Pritchard, a former Stark County coroner, identified himself as a self-employed expert witness, who is certified in forensic medicine. He testified as to Blanchard’s numerous health problems and side effects from the medications he takes daily.
Pritchard said his opinion was that Blanchard entered the trailer through a secondary door (back door) using a ladder, went to the front of the trailer through a narrow hallway, checked the kitchen and living room and, as he was walking back the hallway to the door he came in, saw a person in the bedroom coming at him, turned and fired the gun, which was in his right hand.
Francis and Ed Smith testified they were at the trailer the day before the shooting to mow the lawn. Francis Smith said the back door was closed. Ed Smith said the door was open and Blanchard shut it.
Blanchard did not testify.
The prosecution called six witnesses, including Minerva Police Patrolman Dan Giffiths, first on the scene; Minerva Police Sgt. William Haines, Minerva Police Dispatcher Kimblery Kerr, Bureau of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Larry Hootman, Dr. Renee Robinson, a forensic pathologist with the Stark County Coroner’s office, and Morgan Kreitzer, a neighbor at the 323 Valley St. property.
Griffiths and Haines testified as to the scene when they arrived and verified video from body cameras they were wearing, which showed Blanchard at the rear door of the trailer and Nancy telling Haines Kenny shot her grandson’s father, Michael Fairchild. The jury viewed the 45-minute taped interview Haines conducted with Blanchard at the Carroll County Jail following the shooting.
Kreitzer said she heard arguing from her second floor bedroom next door, heard shots fired and saw Nancy Blanchard coming out of the trailer.
Dr. Robinson, who conducted the autopsy on Fairchild, testified to the location of the gun shot wounds, saying three of them were fatal.
Assistant Ohio Attorney General Paul Scarella, who was appointed a special prosecutor for the case, and Barnett closed their case by telling the jury they knew beyond a reasonable doubt Kenny Blanchard shot Michael Fairchild, where it happened and he did, in fact, purposely cause the death of another human being, which met the elements of murder.
“We know he intentionally pulled the trigger and it took a conscious effort to do that,” said Barnett. “You can infer to intended to kill because he pulled the trigger. You can infer because he used a deadly weapon, he meant to kill. You can use circumstantial evidence to determine the three elements of murder are satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“Self-defense, what is it?” Barnett asked the jury. “Mr. Blanchard inserted himself into the situation. He went there. He drove by, saw the door open, went back home, got his gun, his wife and grandchild and returned to the trailer. He drove by the police station, yet did not call the police. Yet, after he shot a man, he called the police station looking for a friend. He didn’t say he shot someone or had an emergency, he was looking for a friend.”
In his closing statement Jakmides said the prosecution did not prove that at the time in question, it was in the mind of Blanchard to cause the death of another.
“They haven’t even tried,” he said.
Jakmides said Blanchard had the right to shoot if, with his knowledge, believed he was in imminent danger and his only means of retreat was force.
“It’s absurd to think Mr. Blanchard could get away from someone as close as two feet in a confined area,” Jakmides told the jury.
He said the evidence showed Fairchild was on his feet, not sleeping in the bed, because there were not bullet holes in the sheets. “He was also trespassing on Mr. Blanchard’s property.”
He described Fairchild as a crazed heroin addict without a fix. “That’s the most dangerous person you could encounter on your property in the dark,” Jakmides told the jury.
He called the shooting “a mistake not a crime,” saying even if it was a mistake, Blanchard still had the right to do it to defend himself.”
Scarella closed the case with the prosecution’s final closing arguments, telling the jury, “Everybody matters or nobody matters. We are all equal under the law. To listen to Mr. Jakmides, Michael Fairchild doesn’t matter. He does. We all matter.”
Scarella told the jury everything they heard from Pritchard and Jakmides came from one man, Blanchard. “Maybe he’s lying,” Scarella said.
He said the body camera video showed Nancy Blanchard told police Kenny Blanchard shot her grandson’s father – Michael Fairchild. “She knew who it was, how did Kenny Blanchard not know who it was?” he asked the jury.
He said there was not evidence to show a crazed drug user as Jakmides described Fairchild, and suggested once again, Blanchard was lying.
“Your job is not to determine who you feel sorry for or who you feel better about,” Scarella said. “You must make a decision based on the facts and evidence. They are both equal under the law. Treat them that way.”
Judge Olivito instructed the jury on law pertaining to self defense prior to closing statements.
He denied a request from the prosecution to instruct the jury they could consider the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter instead of murder while deliberating the case.