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UPDATE: Jury finds Henrico man guilty in 2019 rape, murder of VCU administrator
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UPDATE: Jury finds Henrico man guilty in 2019 rape, murder of VCU administrator

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Scott Fairman wants his mother remembered for “the wonderful, beautiful, loving person that she was,” he told reporters outside the John Marshall Courts Building on Wednesday after a Richmond jury found a Henrico County man guilty of abducting, raping and murdering her in May 2019.

Suzanne Fairman, 53, was an administrator at Virginia Commonwealth University. She lived alone in the quiet Stratford Hills neighborhood of South Richmond. Her son called her his best friend when he testified on Monday, the first of three days of testimony and evidence. The gallery of the courtroom was filled with family, friends and colleagues, who knew Fairman as Suzie.

“There is a huge amount of relief,” Scott Fairman said after the verdict was read. “These last 2½ years have been dreadful for my family, and friends, and everybody in our lives. With this verdict, I feel like everybody can begin to heal.”

The first and last to testify, Scott Fairman remained in the courtroom to watch the remainder of the trial, which at times included gruesome details of her injuries. “Because I have gone the last 2½ years with vague detail, and because she was my mother and my best friend, I just had to know.”

The panel deliberated a little more than an hour, which Scott Fairman said spoke to the strength of the investigation and the detail with which it was presented.

“There was no question that this individual did this,” Scott Fairman said.

Thomas Edward Clark, 61, worked on Fairman’s back deck prior to her death. He maintains his innocence, and intends to appeal, according to his attorney Ali Amirshahi.

On Wednesday, he called one witness, who testified to being with Clark at various times throughout the day on May 9. The woman, the girlfriend of Clark’s boss at the time, didn’t drive, so Clark would pick her up, take her to work and to school.

Originally, the indictments read that the murder, rape and abduction happened “on or about May 9.” However on Wednesday, after resting their case the night before, prosecutors Hillary Brown and Chris Bullard were allowed to amend the offense date to May 8 or 9, and then argued that Fairman was killed the evening of May 8, which negated Clark’s alibi.

On Monday, the jury heard how Fairman was found dead in the bathtub with the water still running around 11 p.m. on May 9. Signs of the assault were visible — ligature marks on her wrists — and while she was fully clothed, her pants were on inside out.

She had planned to visit her mother in Florida on May 9, for Mother’s Day, but never showed up at the airport.

“Instead, she was experiencing every woman’s worst nightmare,” said Brown, an assistant commonwealth’s attorney, in her opening statement.

Brown and Bullard, a deputy commonwealth’s attorney, wrapped up their evidence on Tuesday,

which included testimony from the medical examiner, the lead detective and a half-dozen forensic and cellphone experts that place Clark’s DNA and cellphone at the scene.

Sperm was found in the underwear Fairman was wearing, according to the evidence. And while Lisa Schiermeier-Wood, a forensic scientist, said it wasn’t common practice in her field to explicitly say the sperm, or any DNA, matched a specific person, she testified that the likelihood of finding another contributor, besides Clark, was roughly 1 in more than 7.2 billion, which is roughly the world’s population.

Kerri Rosana, a forensic examiner, tested a swab taken of Fairman’s vagina, which yielded similar results. She mapped the DNA profile from the swab next to Clark’s DNA, which were identical.

His DNA was also on the handle of a knife that prosecutors said he used to hold her at knifepoint while raping her. It was found on the sink, across from Fairman’s body, along with a iPhone cord that had been cut, a glove, and a bandana, which Clark admitted to leaving when he’d worked on Fairman’s deck.

Fairman died of asphyxia due to strangulation, medical examiner Kristy Waite said, detailing the internal and external injuries to the neck with accompanying photos. When the jury was shown the broken blood vessels in Fairman’s eyes, one juror cringed, covering his own eyes with his hand.

“Would this have been a quick and painless death?” Brown asked Waite.

“No,” Waite said adding that it would have taken “about minutes” of constant pressure of at least 30 pounds or more for Fairman to die.

Waite gave a window between 2:30 a.m. May 8 to 6:30 p.m. May 9 that Fairman could have been killed based on her examination of the body, which had stiffened to point of full rigor.

Phone records show Clark’s cellphone using the same cell towers that provide service at Fairman’s home for extended periods on April 17, 21, 29 and 30, which prosecutors said is consistent with his working on her back deck.

In an interview with Jamie Baynes, a former Richmond detective who led the investigation and has since retired, Clark denied having sex with Fairman.

“I do not have to take anything from a woman,” Clark told Baynes in a recorded interview, clips of which had been played for the jury.

Clark said he never went into Fairman’s home, except maybe to get a glass of water or to use the bathroom, and he denied returning to the home. But cellphone records showed his phone used the same tower that services Fairman’s home on May 9 beginning at 2:53 p.m.

From 3:21 to 5:18 p.m. on May 9, both Clark and Fairman’s phones used the same cell tower, which FBI special agent Jeremy D’Errico said is consistent with them being in close proximity.

According to testimony on Monday, Fairman last replied to text messages from her son around 6:46 p.m. on May 8. Then, 6:50 p.m. is the last time that she used either her phone or computer, which detectives recovered from her kitchen beside an open journal and a steeping cup of tea. It is then that Bullard said Clark abducted, raped and strangled Fairman, then submerged her in water, hoping it would wash away the evidence.

But Clark’s attorney tried to draw attention to the fact that prosecutors originally thought she was killed on May 9, when they tracked Clark’s phone to the home, and changed it to May 8 at the last minute.

“There is some question in their mind of when this occurred,” Amirshahi said. “Up until today it was May 9. ... Where is the evidence of where his cellphone was on May 8?”

Bullard said they may not know exactly when she was killed, but based on the evidence “we do know what happened to Ms. Fairman. She was brutally strangled, raped and killed in her own home.”

The jury agreed, finding Clark guilty of first-degree murder, rape and abduction with the intent to defile. Clark will be sentenced by a judge on Feb. 14. Each charge carries up to a life sentence.

Clark has a history of violent assaults. In 1988, Clark was sentenced to serve 15 years for forcibly raping a woman in Alexandria. In 2005, he pleaded guilty to attempted robbery in Richmond, which came with a 10-year sentence. His victim, a woman, was photographed in the court file with a blackened right eye.

arockett@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6527

Twitter: @AliRockettRTD

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