BARROW -- Ronald Fischer, 47, appeared in court Wednesday to face first-degree murder charges in the shooting death of assistant district attorney Brian Sullivan, 48, two days earlier.
At his initial court appearance Wednesday morning, Fischer sobbed as an Alaska State Trooper and a Barrow police officer sat him down alone at the defense table. Court attendants who sat behind Fischer were instructed not to speak with him.
An affidavit from a North Slope Borough police officer in the charging documents said law enforcement officials believe Fischer shot Sullivan twice in the face with a 20-gauge shotgun within 10 feet of where Sullivan was seated on a couch Monday evening.
Fischer stared down at his lap as Superior Court Judge Michael Jeffery, presiding over the hearing as a district judge, laid out what happens next. If convicted, Fischer faces 20 to 99 years in prison.
Jeffery noted the murder charge alleges Fischer, known to many in Barrow as "Bun Bun," intended to kill his victim. Assistant attorney general James Fayette said his office considered it an "extraordinarily strong case."
"This is in addition to the various other cases you're involved in," the judge said.
At the time of the shooting, the affidavit said, Fischer was out on bail in three cases and had several no-contact orders barring him from making contact with 37-year-old Mabel Kaleak. Among the conditions of those orders was that he stay more than 100 feet from her home, the affidavit said, which is where Sullivan was killed.
Fayette briefly detailed some recent events, alleging Fischer had threatened to kill a local officer and used his daughter as a shield during one incident.
Fayette asked for and was granted a cash bail of $500,000 for Fischer, along with a third-party custodian.
Fischer sat silently for a moment then shrugged his shoulders when Jeffery asked if he had representation in his other cases. Fayette answered for the man he is tasked with prosecuting, telling the court Fischer is represented by local defense attorney Robert Campbell.
In an interview with Alaska Dispatch News on Tuesday, Campbell said he had known Sullivan well. According to court testimony, Campbell had worked out plea agreements for two of Fischer's cases, which were set for hearings Wednesday. Fayette said the agreements were off the table and the hearings were postponed. Campbell said he has already filed motions to withdraw from those cases in light of recent events.
A representation hearing in the murder case was set for Dec. 19.
As Fischer was escorted out of the courtroom, his sister Marilyn Fischer exclaimed, "We love you Bun Bun. … We're here to support you."
'A good family man'
Sullivan and Kaleak had started dating recently, according to a statement from Kaleak recounted in the complaint. She told investigators that she and Sullivan had been working out at the local high school gym for about a week. On the night Sullivan was killed, Fischer showed up at the facility and "he looked upset and didn't say anything."
After finishing at the gym, Kaleak and Sullivan went back to her house to have dinner and watch a movie. Kaleak was in the back bedroom when she heard a door close, she told investigators. She then heard Fischer's voice asking "Who are you...?" before hearing a gunshot, according to the affidavit.
She told investigators that Fischer then came into the bedroom and found her in a closet, where she'd hidden after hearing the shot.
"She explained that she lunged at Ronald and held onto him tight -- to keep the gun compressed between them so he could not point it and shoot," the affidavit says.
Fischer then took Kaleak into the living room, according to the affidavit.
"As they got to the living room area, Mabel said she could smell gunpowder in the air, and that she didn't want to look for Brian because she didn't want to see him," according to the affidavit. Fischer led her outside, where she broke from Fischer and jumped into Sullivan's still-running vehicle before driving to the North Slope Borough Police Department, where she arrived "hysterical, barefoot and (wearing) no jacket," the court documents said.
A security camera mounted across the street from the site of the shooting showed Fischer entering the residence "moments before the fatal shots," the affidavit says.
"The footage also shows Fischer leaving the residence moments later, with the shotgun, in a struggle with Mabel Kaleak," it says.
After the hearing Wednesday morning, Marilyn Fischer said her brother was a loving father of four, a subsistence hunter on a local whaling team and a well-liked member of the community.
"He does have his problems," she said, fighting back tears in the now-empty courtroom. "He is a good family man."
She extended her condolences to the Sullivan family. "It's a loss for everyone."
Kidnapping and other previous charges
Court records detail a string of alleged domestic violence incidents involving Fischer from July to late November. The records show Kaleak was involved in one of those cases, and Sullivan had arraigned Fischer for another case; the hearing occurred before authorities say Kaleak started dating Sullivan.
On July 12, a woman describing herself to police as Fischer's girlfriend's sister reported Fischer had whipped her with a belt
The police charged Fischer with fourth-degree assault in a case that remains open. Sullivan arraigned Fischer in this case, according to court records.
Fischer was arrested for punching Kaleak in the face on Sept. 21, according to court records. Responding officers were allegedly threatened by Fischer.
"Fischer pointed his finger at (a police sergeant) and said he would fight him 'right now,'" the charges say. The officer drew his Taser, but Fischer picked up a 6-year-old girl and used her as a shield. Fischer eventually let her go and was arrested after a "brief struggle," the charges say.
After the arrest, Fischer repeatedly told the sergeant he would get out of jail and hunt him down.
Fischer was charged with various crimes, including kidnapping for using his daughter as a shield and assault. Bail was set initially set at $50,000. Fischer paid $500 bail and was released, according to court records. The case is also unresolved.
The last of the domestic violence cases happened Nov. 29, according to the charges. Kaleak called police and reported that Fischer was harassing her because she came home late with Sullivan, the charges say.
In a phone interview with police, Sullivan said he and Kaleak had been having dinner and Fischer was sending multiple texts to Kaleak. Kaleak's tires were allegedly slashed by Fischer, and Sullivan walked her home. The prosecutor said Fischer showed up to drop off his daughter and started yelling at Kaleak, the charges say.
"During this telephonic interview, Sullivan took care to state that he had removed himself as the prosecutor from Fischer's cases -- presumably because of his friendship with Mabel," the charges say.
Sullivan was not the only court worker in the town of about 4,700 residents to have encountered Fischer. Judge Jeffery confirmed he was in the same dance group as the defendant.
Jeffery said in a phone interview Wednesday that Fischer has not been involved with the group for about 10 years. He added that he is not that involved anymore either, though he did participate as recently as Thanksgiving.
He contended judges typically disclose relationships or potential conflicts of interest and can opt out of cases if they feel they cannot be fair. Jeffery said he feels he can be fair in Fischer's case.
A community in shock
Life appeared to carry on normally Tuesday evening in this Arctic community. Cars moved up and down Stevenson Street, which the locals call "beach road" due to its proximity to the Chukchi Sea on the outskirts of Barrow. Vehicle headlights focused on the ice pack heaving upward toward the pitch black sky near the coast and a lone dumpster back on land, their occupants hoping to catch a glimpse of a polar bear.
Back in Barrow proper, a densely packed community with homes situated as close as 10 feet from one another, three North Slope Borough Police Department SUVs were parked outside a small residence where public records indicate Ronald Fischer lived at one point.
The modest home with a tin roof was covered in ice. Two green Christmas tree lights lit a window facing out on Laura Madison Street.
A few minutes down the road, three men played pool at a game hall that also serves as the office of Windows to the World photography. Each of the men refused to give his name after speaking briefly about the murder. It's sad, they said.
Sitting in front of her work computer, flanked by pictures of wild animals often spotted around the area and Alaska Native art made of whale bone, proprietor Cindy Shults said she never would have expected Fischer to face such an accusation.
"Murders don't happen here," Cindy's husband, Michael Shults, remarked. "Not that often."
In such a small community, Cindy Shults said, everyone has "kind of all grown up together."
"(Fischer) was always around," she said. "He was extremely personal, polite, put together. This is why it's such a shock. It's hard to understand."
Fischer worked as a community liaison officer for Royal Dutch Shell, according to a 2013 Bureau of Ocean Energy Management report.
Fischer chauffeured Shell officials around town, the couple said. He would introduce the corporate workers to locals and "make sure they didn't make any missteps, which is needed in this community. ... Those inroads are important, because people can be standoffish. They want to see them come back multiple times to gain their trust," Michael Shults said.
Fischer's run-ins with the law were known but private; Cindy Shults said she never searched online to find out more details. Acquaintances are hard to avoid, Michael Shults said.
Michael has known Fischer for most of his life, as well as the family's brothers and sisters, and described him as a good guy. A member of the local dance group. A star during high school basketball. But all he could say of the current situation was "What the hell?"
"I would have never guessed by his public behavior that he was capable of this," Cindy Shults said. "When I came into work, everyone was stunned. Nobody said a word, but you could see it in their faces."