Faults and Findings

Ronald Fairiror

By: Emalee Sekely

Rain beat on the windows of room 504 in the Allegheny Courthouse on the morning of Jan. 31, 2017. The weather reflected the mood in that tiny courtroom.  

Family members on both the defendant’s and the victim’s side awaited the verdict from Judge Lawrence O’Toole’s bench. Not long after 10:30 a.m., a man ambled through the door wearing a blood red jumpsuit with “Allegheny County Jail” emblazoned in bold letters on the back. About 6 feet tall with dark hair and dark skin, Ronald Fairiror, 41, was bound in handcuffs, and his lawyers leaned in close to whisper into his ears. He has been in prison for first-degree murder for the last 24 years. 

It was mid-winter when 17-year-old Fairiror fired his gun and effectively stopped James McCormick’s heart. On Dec. 22, 1992, Fairiror and four other men (Darnell and Marcase Williamson, Stephen Knight, and John Humphries) contacted 20-year-old McCormick under the guise of wanting to purchase about 3.5 ounces of crack cocaine. Around 1 a.m., McCormick arranged to meet Knight on Chautauqua Street in Perry Hilltop to buy the cocaine for $3,500. Knight, Marcase and Humphries all had guns in their hands when Darnell drove them to Chautauqua Street.  

The five ordered McCormick to lie down on the ground and hand over all the drugs. When McCormick refused, Fairiror made a decision that has haunted him for 24 years. The teenager pressed the head of his long silver barrel Colt .38 caliber revolver into McCormick’s side and fired a single shot directly into his abdomen. McCormick fell to the ground, Humphries grabbed the drugs, and after approximately four more shots were fired from multiple weapons into McCormick’s head, Fairiror’s fate was sealed.  

On March 14, 1994, a jury found Fairiror guilty of first-degree murder as well as robbery, criminal conspiracy, and carrying a firearm without a license. Judge O’Toole sentenced Fairiror to mandatory life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, and he has remained there ever since. Now because the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that such a sentence cannot be mandatory for juvenile defendants, Judge O’Toole was required to sentence Fairiror again. 

Time has changed Ronald Fairiror, according to his family, who turned out in full force at his resentencing hearing in 2017. The man in prison now is not the same person that he was growing up. Teresa Fairiror referred to her son by his childhood nickname, “Pig” or “Piglet,” as would the rest of his family who followed her. After saying that her son was a good kid who even tried to defend her from his abusive father, she offered him a place to live should he ever get out of prison. 

Sharae Turner, Fairiror’s self-proclaimed “God sister,” saw him as a positive influence on her life. He listened to her problems, gave her advice, and made sure that she stayed focused in school, she said.  

Fairiror’s cousin gave a tearful apology to the victim’s mother. She said that Ronald did not have the best father as a child, and so he turned to his friends who were violent and manipulative. “The streets caught him,” she stated. “I think he really served his time. He knows his mistakes.”  

And he does know his mistakes, at least according to Dr. Alice Applegate who had performed a forensic psychological examination of Fairiror. She testified that he cried deeply during her evaluation of him, showing his guilt. Dr. Applegate said that she believes Fairiror suffers from what she called "Urban Violence Trauma Syndrome" because he was plagued with constant nightmares and parental neglect. She also determined that he has a “below average level of intellectual functioning” and a “high level of anxiety patterns.” She told the court the anxiety stems from his childhood problems and that although he has a moderately severe mental disorder with mood swings, he does not need medication.  

Defense attorney Thomas N. Farrell said he hoped that these evaluations shined light upon at least some of the causes of Fairiror's prison misconducts. For the past nine years, these incidents have dropped off. “Prison is a military atmosphere,” Dr. Applegate said. “Perfect compliance is not a reasonable goal to shoot for.” When juveniles enter the prison system, they are still children until they learn to use the prison environment to help them, she said. Fairiror apparently didn’t reach that point until the age of 33 when he joined prison groups and programs such as “Thinking for a Change” and “Violence Prevention.”  

But James McCormick’s family told a different story. The prosecutor read McCormick’s mother’s victim impact statement aloud, while the room fell silent. “He gunned down my only son on my mother’s birthday…I’ll never get to go to my son’s graduation, wedding…” Why should Fairiror get a second life when her son doesn’t get one? She asked the judge to keep his life sentence intact.  

At the end of the hearing, Fairiror stood slowly and faced the judge. After 24 years, he said, he accepts responsibility for the murder of James McCormick. He turned to McCormick’s mother and apologized. He never intended to kill her son, he said. He asked for her forgiveness, if she could find it in her heart to do so.  

O’Toole resentenced the prisoner 25 years to life, which means that in 2019 Fairiror will be eligible for parole and can appear in front of the parole board in Harrisburg. At that time, the parole board will take his prison records and the victim’s family statements into account. 

Before the hearing was adjourned, Judge O’Toole looked Fairiror in the eye and said: “You only have one chance to this life; don’t mess it up.”