It was his spontaneous confession to Indianapolis authorities in September that first brought the murder charges against Eric Fairburn. On Friday, Fairburn admitted before a judge to the 2004 slaying.
Fairburn appeared before Judge Dan Conklin and pleaded guilty to shooting William McDaniel, 57, who was found dead at his own front door in Springfield on May 14, 2004. Police said it was a revenge killing after McDaniel was named as the prime suspect in a hit-and-run fatality.
Per a plea deal, Fairburn pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and accepted the sentence of life in prison. In Missouri, that means 30 years. He will have to serve a minimum of 85 percent of that sentence — 25 and a half years — before he could be considered for release.
Fairburn is 36, and would be 61 before being eligible for parole.
Fairburn’s appearance, with tattoos covering much of his exposed skin, reflected a past that authorities describe as “violent and involved in hate groups.” But he spoke articulately and requested the judge to allow him to express how sorry he was.
Prosecutor Todd Myers said Fairburn’s remorse for McDaniel’s death and the family’s loss was clearly evident.
“He has been making this process as fast as possible,” Myers said.
Rebecca McDaniel, the wife of William McDaniel, was in the courtroom as Fairburn pleaded guilty. Myers said she didn’t wish to address the court, but Myers told the judge that she was appreciative that Fairburn came forward.
“She’s still trying to deal with these events,” Myers said.
On the day of the killing, Rebecca McDaniel called police from a relative’s home in the 1600 block of E. Turner at about 2 in the morning. When authorities arrived, the woman told police her husband had gotten a mysterious phone call just before their doorbell rang. When he opened the door, shots rang out.
She had tried to call 911 from inside the home but found that the phones were dead. Police would later find evidence that the lines had been cut.
Police found William McDaniel dead at the scene, shell casings scattered around him.
“Mr. Fairburn was a suspect from the beginning,” Myers said.
Fairburn had been a friend of Alfonso J. “Sinbad” Riggio, a well-known motorcycle painter.
McDaniel had been the driver in the hit-and-run death of Riggio two weeks prior. McDaniel, who had previous convictions for driving while intoxicated, was believed to have been drunk at the time of the accident. The crash investigation ended the day McDaniel died.
Myers said Fairburn had threatened McDaniel before the shooting, and police had long thought Fairburn was involved, but lacked the evidence for charges.
More than six years after the killing, Fairburn walked into a police department in Indianapolis and told detectives there he needed to talk.
Springfield detectives, who had been tracking Fairburn’s movements around the country, met with him shortly after, and Fairburn described shooting McDaniel out of revenge for his friend.
In Friday’s court hearing, Fairburn insisted that he was the only person involved in the shooting — saying, by name, three other people once included in investigation reports as potentially involved either in the shooting itself or in planning the murder.
“I acted alone” he said.
Fairburn had been charged with first-degree murder, which carries a sentence of life imprisonment or the death penalty if certain factors exist, including if the defendant had previous serious assault convictions. Fairburn had a previous conviction for assault in another state.
The charges were amended to second-degree murder, which carries 10 to 30 years in prison or a life sentence. The plea agreement Fairburn accepted recommended life imprisonment.
“It was an ugly business. I’m sorry how this went down,” Fairburn said in court Friday. He continued to struggle to express his remorse.
“How do you say sorry for something like this?”