canada africa partner reservation Massachusetts detective’s affair exposed during investigation into his wife’s shooting death

Massachusetts detective’s affair exposed during investigation into his wife’s shooting death

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It was 1 p.m. on May 8, 2018, when Massachusetts State Police detectives arrived at a farmhouse in Westfield. 51-year-old Amy Fanion lay dead in the dining room from a single gunshot wound to the head.

Amy Fanion’s husband, Brian Fanion, a detective in the Westfield Police Department, had called 911 minutes earlier, reporting that his wife had shot herself.

Det. Mike McNally: Amy was essentially … in a pile of blood that was beginning to congeal under her left side.  

The dining room, rearranged to accommodate medical personnel, was in disarray as detectives worked to identify clues of what may have happened.

Det. Mike McNally: There was a … blood spatter around that window frame from that dining room into the breezeway. … There was a pair of glasses that looked like it had some kind of red-brown spatter on it.

A spent bullet casing on the dining room floor of the Fanion home, where Amy Fanion was found dead with a gunshot to the right side of her head. “I saw the entry wound to her head. … It didn’t seem right in that moment,” said Massachusetts State Police Det. Mike McNally. “How would something like that happen?”

Hampden County District Attorney’s Office


And then there was the bullet.

Det. Mike Blanchette: The actual projectile … was in that front … enclosed porch area. … The spent shell casing was still in the dining room. 

Det. Mike McNally: We could see the direction that it traveled, through Amy’s head … that round impacted that dresser, came to a rest right around there in the breezeway.

Det. Brendan O’Toole: Brian was sitting in a chair with his back to the wall and … he’s with the chief of police from the Westfield police department, who’s talking with him. … Everyone was in a state of shock.

Everyone, including Amy Fanion’s brother, Eric Hansen, who told detectives that he had just finished playing disc golf behind the house when he heard Brian Fanion’s cry for help. 

And that’s when he walked into the house, saw Amy Fanion on the floor, a gun next to her, and Brian Fanion holding Amy’s hand. 

Det. Mike Blanchette: So he picked up the gun himself and moved it, uh, out of Brian’s reach. 

Nikki Battiste:  — because he was worried about Brian’s state of mind having just lost his wife.

Det. Mike Blanchette: Yes. 

Nikki Battiste: What kind of gun was used? 

Det. Brendan O’Toole: A Smith & Wesson, uh, M&P 45. … Brian Fanion’s duty weapon.

Nikki Battiste: That give you any pause that it was Brian Fanion’s weapon?

Det. Brendan O’Toole: Yes. It gave me pause … at this point I know that I’m going to really do a detailed investigation. 

THE INVESTIGATION BEGINS

To avoid conflict of interest, O’Toole said he decided that his unit, the Massachusetts State Police, would be the sole investigators, and he wanted to get Brian Fanion away from the house to get a statement.

Det. Brendan O’Toole: I asked if he would accompany me to the Massachusetts State Police barracks in Russell. … And … I took a uh, tape recorded statement from him. 

DET. BRENDAN O’TOOLE (police statement): Tuesday May 8th. It’s 2:41 p.m. … I’m with Brian Fanion. Brian, um, do you understand I got a recorder on right now? 

BRIAN FANION: Yes. 

Brian Fanion told O’Toole that he left his office at the Westfield Police Station around 11:45 a.m. and drove to North Road to meet his wife who was on her way home to prepare their lunch.

DET. BRENDAN O’TOOLE (police statement): What was she making? 

BRIAN FANION: Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. 

Brian Fanion said that when he arrived, they continued an argument from the night prior — an argument that had gotten pretty heated that evening.

DET. BRENDAN O’TOOLE (police statement): When you say heated, I guess what — 

BRIAN FANION: Just, uh, I don’t know … She just, uh, was very angry. 

DET. BRENDAN O’TOOLE: What was the argument about? 

BRIAN FANION: Um, I’m retiring soon … We were discussing what each of us expects retirement to be. 

Brian Fanion said he told Amy that he didn’t want to spend his retirement maintaining their 200-year-old home, which Amy still loved. They also discussed their aging dog, and his reluctance to get another one.

BRIAN FANION (police statement): I don’t want to be tied down by a dog. … Yeah. … She always wants to have a dog. … I want to travel more than she does. 

According to Brian Fanion, that afternoon, during lunch, Amy Fanion told him she had scheduled them to attend a family member’s play on the day Brian wanted to attend a disc golf tournament. 

BRIAN FANION (police statement): I just said, “oh I don’t like that stuff. Why would you commit me when — or without asking?”

That’s when, according to Brian Fanion, things soon took a turn for the worse. 

BRIAN FANION (police statement): I took my gun out of the holster and put it on our hutch because I had to use the bathroom.

DET. BRENDAN O’TOOLE: Where is the hutch located?

BRIAN FANION: In the dining room. 

Brian Fanion said he closed the bathroom door, and when he came out, Amy Fanion had the gun in her hand. 

BRIAN FANION (police statement): She has the — the gun pointed up to the right side of her head.

DET. BRENDAN O’TOOLE: What did you hear her say?

BRIAN FANION: I — I think she said, I guess you don’t want  — you don’t want me around or you don’t want to be around me. 

DET. BRENDAN O’TOOLE: Was she seated or —

BRIAN FANION: No. She stood up.

BRENDAN O’TOOLE: She was standing. OK.

According to Brian Fanion, he was four to five feet away when he tried to stop his wife from pulling the trigger.

BRIAN FANION (police statement): I tried to get to her. I almost did. … The gun just exploded. … It was just so quick. She didn’t hesitate at all. … I just went over, and I just held her hands. Tried to  — just held her hands (crying). 

Brian Fanion called 911 and yelled out to Amy’s brother, Eric Hansen, for help. 

Hansen told detectives that Brian Fanion said he and Amy had been having a tense argument. 

ERIC HANSEN (police interview): And she grabbed the gun … he just was so distraught. 

DET. MIKE BLANCHETTE: Did he say what they were arguing about? 

ERIC HANSEN: No. I was just trying to console him, say, it’s not your fault, it’s not your fault. 

Amy’s Fanion’s death had shocked the Westfield community.

Stephanie Barry is a reporter for The Republican in Springfield, Massachusetts. 

Stephanie Barry: Amy’s maiden name was Hansen. She came from a fairly large family … She and her sisters … were all known as some of the prettiest girls in school, some of the smartest, and some of the nicest. 

It was 1983 when 16-year-old Amy Hansen met 19-year-old Brian Fanion. Fanion came from a long line of police officers and politicians, and in Westfield, the Fanion name was a source of pride.

Stephanie Barry: The Fanions were kind of like the Kennedys of Westfield. They were well regarded.

Brian and Amy Fanion

Firtion Adams Funeral Home


Brian and Amy tied the knot in 1985, and the couple eventually had two children, Travis and Victoria. Amy Fanion’s close friend, Teri Licciardi says Amy loved being a stay-at-home mom. 

Teri Licciardi: Amy’s focus was raising her children. … she thought that being a parent was the best job in the whole world. 

The Fanions, deeply committed to their faith, dedicated their lives to God and community service, with Brian Fanion serving as a church deacon and working as a missionary to build wells in Mexico. 

After 30 years of marriage, the Fanions were planning their next phase of life when those plans derailed. 

Nikki Battiste: Is there any knowledge that Amy Fanion had any mental health issues or suffered from depression?

Brendan O’Toole: So, I — I asked Brian … And, um, he mentioned, um, many years earlier … she was having some psychological issues, in which she was on medicine for a period of time … other than that, nothing — nothing recent.

But what Brian Fanion did stress was that his wife had bouts with anger. 

BRIAN FANION (police statement): She had a temper, but she hid it well from everyone but me. She only got that angry when we were alone. 

Midway into the interview, O’Toole asked Brian Fanion if there were any female friends in his life. 

BRIAN FANION (police statement): I have a woman who lives in Pittsfield that I met recently, I did a mission trip to Mexico, and we become good friends. 

DET. BRENDAN O’TOOLE: What’s that lady’s name?

BRIAN FANION: Cori.

DET. BRENDAN O’TOOLE: Does she have a last name or —?

BRIAN FANION: Cori Knowles, K-N-O-W-L-E-S. You guys aren’t going to contact her. Are you? 

BRIAN FANION’S DELETED TEXTS RAISE SUSPICION

For Detective O’Toole, Brian Fanion’s admitted friendship with another woman raised questions. 

Fanion had told detectives that Corrine Knowles, known as Cori, was a fellow missionary at a nearby church. The two met in November 2017 on a mission trip in Mexico, and a friendship developed, but it had never gone beyond that.

Cori Knowles and Brian Fanion

Hampden County Superior Court


Nikki Battiste: An emotional affair?

Det. Brendan O’Toole: He said there was some flirting, but he qualified it, that it wasn’t —

Nikki Battiste: Sexual?

Det. Brendan O’Toole: — a sexual. It was not a — his term was it was not a friends with benefits.

At the end of the interview, O’Toole asked Fanion to turn over his personal phone.

Det. Brendan O’Toole: I turned off the recorder and that’s when Brian told me … He’s like, you’re going to see some things on there and it’s not what it appears to be.

Nikki Battiste: Red flag for you?

Det. Brendan O’Toole: Yeah. … There’s several red flags … as a — an investigator … you have to keep an open mind.

Within a week of Brian Fanion’s interview, on May 14, 2018, Amy Fanion’s wake was held.

Brian Fanion planted a tree in nearby Stanley Park in his wife’s memory, but the investigation into her sudden death was just beginning.

Detectives recovered a treasure trove of deleted text messages from Brian Fanion’s phone including these exchanges on May 4 and 5:

MAY 4, 2018:

CORI KNOWLES | 9:42 AM: Mmmmm … To feel your hot breath on my skin!!!

CORI KNOWLES | 9:48 AM: Have I told you that I love being your Angel? …

BRIAN FANION | 9:59 AM: I swear God made you for me …

CORI KNOWLES | 1:11 PM: I so need to hear your voice … I love you!!!

BRIAN FANION | 1:19 PM: Amy is still being attentive and clingy …

BRIAN FANION | 9:08 PM: Thank You for being you, the most amazing woman that I have ever known.


MAY 5, 2018:

CORI KNOWLES | 4:31 PM: My heart belongs to you…

BRIAN FANION | 4:26 PM: … I would be lost without you :):):):) I am eternally yours.

BRIAN FANION | 7:39 PM: I love you Cori!!!

CORI KNOWLES | 7:43 PM: I love you so much Brian!!!!!

Det. Mike Blanchette: There were just hundreds of texts that expanded on the relationship that he was having with Cori.

On May 7, the day before Amy Fanion died, Brian Fanion and Knowles exchanged 72 text messages until 9:47 p.m. that evening.

In one exchange at 9:23 p.m., Brian Fanion writes, “Good night my love!!! I hope you have wonderful dreams of amazing days and nights to come:):):):).

At 10:33 p.m. Knowles responds, “Good night My love … I will dream of you and all that they (sic) future holds for us!”  

The next morning at 10:30 a.m., Knowles texts, “When can I hold you again?????”

To which Brian Fanion responds, “… not soon enough. Turning into a very long morning.

Nikki Battiste: And within an hour or two, Amy Fanion is dead.

Det. Mike Blanchette: Yes.

At 12:47 p.m. on May 8, Brian Fanion texts Knowles, “Please don’t call or text for a while. I’ll call when I can really bad pray for my family please.”

Det. Brendan O’Toole: Brian has not been entirely truthful to us at this point. And so we want to speak with him again.

Brian Fanion is questioned in a second interview with detectives from the Massachusetts State Police on May 17, 2018.

Hampden County Superior Court


On May 17, 2018, three days after Amy Fanion’s wake, Brian Fanion arrived at the District Attorney’s State Police Office for another round of questioning.

DET. BRENDAN O’TOOLE (police interview):  So we just needed to, you know, uh, clarify some things. … you know your Miranda rights, but I — I’m going to read them off this form.

BRIAN FANION: Now — the other day you didn’t do this. Has something changed?…

DET. BRENDAN O’TOOLE: You’re not, you’re not under arrest or anything.

BRIAN FANION: Well, I know that.

And on that same day, across town, detectives met with Cori Knowles to learn more about her involvement with Brian Fanion.

DET. MIKE MCNALLY (police interview): If somebody was to say, who’s Cori, who are you?

Cori Knowles, a 48-year-old wife, grandmother, and member of her church’s choir, told detectives that Brian Fanion’s friendship helped her work through a troubled second marriage.

CORI KNOWLES: Brian is very easy to talk to. … nothing but affirmation and love, and I’m here for you.

But over time, their relationship moved from friendship to flirtation.

CORI KNOWLES (police interview): Did I feel passion for him? Absolutely.

By April 16, 2018, five months into Brian Fanion and Knowles’ relationship, their texting gave way to something more intimate when Knowles visited Fanion’s house before they left for volunteer work.

DET. MIKE MCNALLY (police interview): Was that the first time you were intimate that you kissed, at, on that April day, the 16th?

CORI KNOWLES: Yeah.

DET. MIKE MCNALLY (police interview): And then where was that?

CORI KNOWLES: I wanna say the kitchen. … ’cause I got there before Amy got home.

Knowles told detectives that by late April, she and Brian Fanion were having passionate make-out sessions in her truck.

At 5:29 p.m. on April 23, 2018, Knowles texts Brian Fanion, “I can feel your … lips on mine!!!! LOVE that Memory!!!:):):)

At 5:34 p. m., Brian Fanion replies, “… I’m thinking of the one with your legs around my waist … Oh my … “

Det. Mike McNally: Brian left work early, met up with Cori in Westfield at Stanley Park and they made out … there was, some sexual touching.

But according to Knowles, Brian Fanion could not perform.

CORI KNOWLES (police interview): It was more like because I’m still married to — to Amy —

DET. BRENDAN O’TOOLE (police interview): We’ve seen the text messages. In all honesty, Brian, it looks like it’s a lot more than a friendship. You know.

BRIAN FANION: I know it escalated … and I’m completely embarrassed by it, ashamed of it and shouldn’t happen.

Nikki Battiste: But a lot of people have affairs and —

Det. Brendan O’Toole: Correct.

Nikki Battiste: — don’t kill their wife.

Det. Brendan O’Toole: Correct.

O’Toole then asks Brian Fanion to go back over his statement of what happened, beginning at the moment when Fanion said he placed his gun on the hutch and went inside the bathroom.

DET. BRENDAN O’TOOLE (police interview): All right. So, you come out of the bathroom, right, and she’s at the table. Where — where just indicate like where —

DET. BRENDAN O’TOOLE: Between the table and the hutch?

BRIAN FANION: Yeah.

DET. BRENDAN O’TOOLE: In — in a chair right there?

BRIAN FANION: I don’t know if she was sitting or standing. I think she was standing. I mean, um, shoot — I think she was sitting.

Det. Mike Blanchette: Now, when we were trying to get these, step-by-step details, he seemed to be wavering.

DET. BRENDAN O’TOOLE: So, you come out of the bathroom. OK? … And then what’s the first thing that happens?

BRIAN FANION: I just remember her saying that — that you obviously don’t want me around.

And then O’Toole asks Brian Fanion to demonstrate what Amy Fanion did with the gun.

BRIAN FANION: I just remember seeing her hand come up with the gun.

DET. MIKE BLANCHETTE: Towards her head?

BRIAN FANION: Yeah.

DET. BRENDAN O’TOOLE: So, she puts it to the side of her head?

BRIAN FANION: Yes.

DET. BRENDAN O’TOOLE: OK.

DET. BRENDAN O’TOOLE: And — and where was the gun when it went off? Was it in the same —

BRIAN FANION: Right to her head.

But there is a problem. What Brian Fanion did not know was that a CSI report and Amy Fanion’s autopsy results had arrived.

Det. Brendan O’Toole: … the gunshot entrance wound was not consistent with a self-inflicted wound.

Nikki Battiste: Fair to say it took this case in a whole new direction?

Det. Brendan O’Toole: Yes.

QUESTIONING BRIAN FANION’S STORY

During the second interview with Brian Fanion,  O’Toole And Blanchette found themselves facing a challenge that tested their experience as investigators.

Det. Brendan O’Toole: This is not a — a normal interview for myself and Mike. We’ve done thousands of interviews. You know, we’re pretty good at it, but it’s hard when it’s a police officer, because he knows exactly how we work … it was … a difficult interview.

DET. BRENDAN O’TOOLE (police interview): There’s a problem. I’ll be straight up …

Detectives laid out with what they considered to be crucial evidence in their investigation. 

DET. BRENDAN O’TOOLE (police interview): There’s no indication – whatsoever, so far that she had a gun close to the side of her head.

BRIAN FANION: Well, then you’re wrong ’cause she did. ‘Cause I saw it and it happened.

DET. BRENDAN O’TOOLE: You — you know

BRIAN FANION: How do you say there’s no indication?

DET. BRENDAN O’TOOLE: Well, I mean, that’s what — that’s what, you know, that’s what it’s showing us right now.

The medical examiner listed Amy Fanion’s manner of death as undetermined. And combined with CSI findings, investigators did not believe that she died of a self-inflicted wound.

DET. BRENDAN O’TOOLE (police interview): I mean, there’s no doubt she — was shot was, but the question is, from what distance?

BRIAN FANION: It was right freaking there. I’m telling you. . . well do what you need to but I’m telling you it was right there.

In Amy’s case, distance mattered. This is because with self-inflicted gunshot wounds, debris, known as gunshot residue, is expelled from the firearm. It leaves a distinct pattern on and inside the wound known as stippling.

DET. BRENDAN O’TOOLE (police interview): Like, if Brian, you — you understand like guns and stippling and all that stuff?

BRIAN FANION: I do and I can’t —

DET. BRENDAN O’TOOLE: There’s none on her, Brian. There’s none on her! 

BRIAN FANION: There has to be ’cause the gun was the — right freaking there!

DET. BRENDAN O’TOOLE: There’s none on her. 

BRIAN FANION: Then they’re wrong. I’m telling you they’re — they’re flat out wrong, ’cause it was right freaking there.

DET. BRENDAN O’TOOLE: The other option is you got pissed and you’re a foot — or a few feet away and you shot her in the head —

BRIAN FANION: No, no.

DET. BRENDAN O’TOOLE: — when she’s sitting eating a peanut butter sandwich. 

BRIAN FANION: Didn’t happen.

DET. BRENDAN O’TOOLE: Didn’t happen?

BRIAN FANION: Did not happen.

DET. BRENDAN O’TOOLE: Alright.

With Brian Fanion’s affair exposed and CSI reports in hand, detectives suspected Fanion had likely shot his wife, but they still needed more evidence.

On May 24, 2018, detectives obtained a search warrant for Fanion’s home, and when detectives arrived —

Det. Brendan O’Toole: Brian … asked if I was there to arrest him. And I told him I wasn’t. And then he asked me if I thought he did it.

Nikki Battiste: Were you surprised he asked you that?

Det. Brendan O’Toole: I was noting it. I didn’t know how to feel … and I didn’t answer his question.

Detectives took additional measurements to analyze the trajectory of the bullet.

Fanion’s home electronics were confiscated. And at the same time, his desktop computer and laptop at the Westfield Police Station were seized for data extraction. 

Nikki Battiste: Did you see any signs that Brian Fanion planned to kill his wife? Any evidence that points to that?

Det. Brendan O’Toole: We see a totality of all the evidence here. … Um, we’re not the fact finders. Um, we’re, we’re detectives, so we, we collect all this information and then … it’s going to be presented … and someone else is going to make a determination on that.

And that someone would be Hampden County Assistant District Attorney Mary Sandstrom. New to the homicide division, Sandstrom had arrived in Massachusetts by way of New York.

Nikki Battiste: Is it fair to say you were a fish out of water a bit?

Mary Sandstrom (laughs): It’s always hard not being from the area in which you prosecute. … uh, it’s a very small, very intimately connected town. … So, yes, you’re never at an advantage where you don’t know everybody by name.

Nikki Battiste: Adding to the difficulty, Brian Fanion is a detective. … And respected.

Mary Sandstrom: Very much in — in that community.

As spring gave way to summer, Knowles ended her relationship with Brian Fanion. By early 2019, Fanion retired from the police force.

The investigation into Amy Fanion’s death continued.

Mary Sandstrom: We’re still trying to get some testing done … because we wanna have a strong case as possible before we go in before the grand jury.

And a complication in the form of a letter was among the case files.

Amy Fanion’s family members expressed their “unfailing support” of Brian Fanion, saying “we are certain Amy took her own life.”  The letter was signed by Amy’s siblings, and even her own mother.

Nikki Battiste: That’s gotta be tough for you.

Mary Sandstrom: It’s an awkward position for a prosecutor, where your victim family isn’t supporting you. … It was an odd spot to be in.

An odd spot, perhaps, but not a deterrent. On Nov. 6, 2019, 17 months after Amy Fanion died, detectives arrived at Brian Fanion’s door.

Det. Mike McNally: Brian … came to the dining room door … pretty quickly as I recall it, and he said something to the effect of, come in. … Then Mike Blanchette began to describe to Brian, “Brian, we have an arrest warrant for you.”

NEWS REPORT|WBTZ: Police say Brian Fanion told them that his wife shot herself with his gun while he was at home on a lunch break last year.

Det. Mike McNally: I remember telling him, put your hands behind your back. I took out my handcuffs.

NEWS REPORT: AUDREY RUSSO | WESTERN MASS NEWS: … through their investigation, they only solidified their suspicion that Brian pulled the trigger.

Det. Mike McNally: He was eating … assorted nuts … just popping some in his mouth … And as he put his hands behind his back, he let them drop to the floor.

Det. Mike McNally: We transported Brian to the Russell State Police barracks. … he’s processed. Photographed. Fingerprinted.

NEWS REPORT | CHRIS PISANO | WESTERN MASS NEWS: … stands accused of killing his wife in what was originally reported as …

Det. Mike McNally: I assessed a feeling of despair on Brian’s face, like … I can’t believe this is happening.

FORMER DETECTIVE GOES ON TRIAL FOR MURDER

Stephanie Barry, a crime reporter at The Republican newspaper, recalls the unusual scene that played out 15 miles away, in Springfield, Massachusetts, inside the Hampden County Superior Court in early November 2019.

Stephanie Barry: There’s no one who spent any amount of time in Westfield who didn’t know who Brian Fanion was.

Stephanie Barry: It was a pretty full house. And the kind of palpable shock remained throughout the entire proceeding.

Retired Det. Brian Fanion

Hampden District Attorney’s Office


Brian Fanion, who appeared for his initial arraignment, entered a plea of not guilty. And sitting right behind him were members of both Brian’s and Amy Fanion’s family.

Stephanie Barry: I can’t think of another instance when I’ve seen the family of a victim … sticking up for the accused murderer of their loved one.

And despite the absence of support from members of Amy Fanion’s family, ADA Sandstrom continued to build her case.

Amy Fanion

Court exhibit


Nikki Battiste: What was Amy Fanion like?

Mary Sandstrom: She sounds like a fairytale. … giving, selfless. … completely dedicated to her family.

According to Sandstrom, the night before Amy Fanion died, she was making a gift for an upcoming baby shower that she planned to attend, and was texting her daughter, Victoria.

Nikki Battiste: Did anyone ever say that Amy was ever suicidal?

Mary Sandstrom: She wasn’t a person who was ready to die. … Amy was healthy. She was happy.

Nikki Battiste: What do you think Brian Fanion’s motive was?

Mary Sandstrom: He was ready to start a new chapter of his life that did not include Amy Fanion. … He’s chosen his life partner in Cori. Amy is the only thing standing in the way now.

Nikki Battiste: And that’s always the million-dollar question. Why not divorce?

Mary Sandstrom: He can’t divorce Amy for how he is going … to be seen in this community. … divorce is public. But, in his mind, murder doesn’t have to be.

On Feb. 23, 2023 – in what would be Westfield’s most publicized case, Brian Fanion’s trial began. He faced a life sentence for the first-degree murder of his wife.

“48 Hours” made several interview requests to Brian Fanion, his attorney, Jeffrey Brown, as well as family members of both Amy and Brian, but never received a response.

Nikki Battiste: This is a big case, a lot of attention. … How are you feeling?

Mary Sandstrom: For any trial, you’re always nervous. And … this was probably the most high-profile case I’ve ever done.

Opening statements revealed conflicting accounts of the circumstances surrounding Amy Fanion’s death.

MARY SANDSTROM (in court): The defendant was a deacon at Wyben Union Church and an officer for the Westfield Police Department … The evidence will show that while the defendant was repulsed by continuing his marriage with Amy. He couldn’t divorce her either. … Leaving him trapped. … And once that evidence is before you, I will ask you to find the defendant guilty of murder in the first degree. 

Brian Fanion’s defense focused on Amy Fanion’s anger issues and claimed she suffered from anxiety. Brown alleged that on the day of Amy’s death, an argument over Brian’s retirement plans and his refusal to attend a family member’s play pushed her over the edge.

JEFFREY BROWN (in court): In the days before Amy shot herself, Amy was very mad at Brian. … You had to tread lightly around Amy for fear of setting her off.

JEFFREY BROWN (in court): And at the conclusion of the evidence in this case, I’ll ask that we find Brian Fanion not guilty. Thank you.

Anna Hansen, Amy’s younger sister, was the first witness for the prosecution. She was the only family member who signed the letter of support that willingly testified against Brian Fanion. 

Anna Hansen, Amy Fanion’s younger sister, was the first witness for the prosecution. She was the only family member who signed the letter of support that willingly testified against Brian Fanion. 

Pool


Anna Hansen stated that during the investigation into Amy’s death, her brother-in-law confided that he was worried about searches he had conducted on his computer.

ANNA HANSEN (in court): I asked him what that search was, and he said, “how to make a murder look like a suicide.”

MARY SANDSTROM: He specifically said he searched quote “how to make a murder look like a suicide?”

ANNA HANSEN: Those were his exact words.

Anna Hansen told the jury that when she asked her brother-in-law why he made this search, Brian Fanion told her that Amy asked him to do it after they watched a “CSI” show. It was a show that Anna Hansen questioned if Amy had ever watched.

MARY SANDSTROM (in court): Did she ever state that she liked those shows?

ANNA HANSEN: She never shared that with me.

The prosecution’s next witness was Brian Fanion’s former lover, a divorced Cori Knowles, now Cori Hasty, who told the jury that Fanion was concerned about ending his marriage.

MARY SANDSTROM (in court): Did the defendant ever talk about what could happen to him if he were to divorce Amy?

CORI HASTY: Yes. … If Amy was to ever leave  — excuse me, or he divorced her, that she would take him for everything that he’s got. … because he wouldn’t be able to sustain on retirement at that point.

The prosecution called Tom Forest from the Cyber Crime Unit. All of Brian Fanion’s devices were examined, but it was Fanion’s office computer that produced some curious results.

Forest said Brian Fanion visited these sites:

DET. TOM FOREST (in court): “Common and dangerous poisons,” …  “Which drug causes the most deaths each year? … Sixteen common household items that could kill you.”

DET. TOM FOREST (in court): “Carbon monoxide the invisible killer” … “Household poisons” … “Common prescription overdoses” …

Mary Sandstrom: But it’s only when this affair starts up … that all of these incriminating searches start to appear.

And 11 days prior to Amy Fanion’s death, Brian Fanion used his office computer to view a news report on YouTube called, “What gunshot residue tests tell us.”  

Mary Sandstrom: He wasn’t assigned to any active investigations in April and May of 2018. … that would necessitate looking up gunshot residue. … Nobody in the Westfield Police Department does gunshot residue testing.

Stephanie Barry: I was trying to keep a very open mind about what the evidence was going to show. … but I didn’t think that was great news for Brian Fanion.

Detective John Schrijn, a ballistics expert and a crucial witness for the prosecution, testified that Amy Fanion’s wound was not self-inflicted.

Citing the absence of gunshot residue near the wound coupled with the trajectory of the bullet, Schrijn concluded that Amy Fanion was shot from downward angle and at a distance of at least 18 inches  — not at close range as Brian Fanion had claimed.

MARY SANDSTROM (in court): So, did you form an opinion … as to whether or not … the defendant’s firearm was discharged at a distance of 18 inches or greater.

DET. JOHN SCHRIJN: Over 18 inches, without anything intervening. That’s correct.

After 12 days of testimony and 27 witnesses, the prosecution rested. But waiting in the wings was a defense poised to introduce a significant element that could potentially unravel the DA’s case.

Mary Sandstrom: Any prosecutor who is not worried about a defense, probably isn’t a good prosecutor.

THE DEFENSE MAKES ITS CASE

Defense attorney Jeffrey Brown, whose client faced life in prison, launched a counterattack. He cross-examined Brian Fanion’s former lover, Cori Hasty.

According to the state, Brian Fanion’s affair was the primary motive for murdering his wife. But Hasty admitted to the defense that when she ended their relationship, Fanion didn’t try to stop her.

JEFFREY BROWN (in court): When ultimately you ended it with Brian, his response was, OK, isn’t that right? 

CORI HASTY: To my recollection.

JEFFREY BROWN: He didn’t say to you, oh, my God, I killed Amy for you and you’re leaving me? He never said that, right?

CORI HASTY: Correct.

And what about the websites Det. Forest from the Cyber Crime Unit said Brian Fanion visited?

The defense argued that some of the websites he visited were related to an aging house, an old wood-burning stove, and the potential hazards it might pose to a young family member.

JEFFREY BROWN (in court): Did you know that the Fanions, um, were beginning to have a young niece a child stay in their home during that time frame? 

DET. TOM FOREST: No, I did not. 

But what the defense couldn’t reconcile were Brian Fanion’s searches about gunshot residue days before his wife’s death.

And there was Amy Fanion’s sister, Anna Hansen, the only family member who willingly testified for the prosecution. She claimed that Brian Fanion told her he searched “how to make a murder look like a suicide” on his computer.

JEFFREY BROWN (in court): You didn’t find any sites that were searched or visited relating to the terms, how to make a murder look like a suicide, isn’t that true? 

DET. TOM FOREST: That is true.

The defense narrowed its focus and scrutinized Amy Fanion’s personality by cross-examining Amy’s own mother, Patricia Tarrant.

JEFFREY BROWN (in court): Did your daughter Amy have a temper? 

PATRICIA TARRANT: Yes.

A temper, according to Amy’s sister, Holly Fanion, that would typically be directed toward her husband.

JEFFREY BROWN (in court): Well, did she snap at Brian in front of you?

HOLLY FANION: She would. … I was embarrassed for him. You don’t usually talk to your husband kind of in that way. Maybe you reprimand a child, but not a husband.  

But would Amy Fanion’s temper lead to an impulsive decision such as grabbing Brian Fanion’s gun? According to Amy’s son Travis Fanion, it would.

TRAVIS FANION (in court): I could easily picture or envision her, grabbing the gun impulsively … to make a point … that she picked it up intending to complete a trigger pull and — and shoot herself.

But what would explain the lack of gunshot residue on Amy Fanion?

Alexander Jason: Her wound is consistent with a close-range gunshot wound based …

Alexander Jason, a senior certified crime scene analyst, testified for the defense.

Alexander Jason: That’s the foundation of the whole prosecution. … And this whole idea that it had to be 18 inches because of the absence of gunshot residue is not valid.

Jason says the lack of gunshot residue was not due to distance. It was due to Amy Fanion’s hair.

Nikki Battiste: What could Amy Fanion’s hair have told us?

Alexander Jason: Amy Fanion had very dense, thick hair that will block the gunshot residue.

Jason’s research “Effect of Hair on the Deposition of Gunshot Residue” was published by the FBI’s forensic science journal in 2004.

Jason says there could have been gunshot residue, commonly known as GSR, embedded in Amy Fanion’s hair. The crime scene analyst did not test her hair.

Alexander Jason: What they should have done is taken the hair … and then analyze those little specs to see if they’re gunshot residue or not. … which was a mistake.

Jason’s testimony was limited at trial, but to support his theory he and his daughter Juliana met “48 Hours” at a gun range in California to demonstrate what may have happened to Amy Fanion.

Alexander Jason: I’m going to fire two times.

Using a .45 caliber gun and ammunition identical to what was found at the scene, Jason fired a single round into a mound of hair, backed by a ballistic skin simulant.

Nikki Battiste: So, you just shot a .45 caliber gun, three inches away through hair.

Alexander Jason: Yes. 

Alexander Jason: Amy Fanion had considerable hair, maybe more dense than this where the bullet entered … and the hair will act as a filter and prevent the gunshot residue from reaching her skin.

For comparison, Jason positioned the gun at the same distance, using identical ammunition, and fired into the skin simulant without hair.

Alexander Jason: And I pull this away.

Nikki Battiste: Wow. 

Alexander Jason and “48 Hours” contributor Nikki Battiste at the gun range. Jason demonstrated how Amy Fanion’s hair may have acted as a filter, preventing gunshot residue from reaching her skin.

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Alexander Jason: You can see there is a big difference. … Now, look at that. That’s a very clean wound. That’s a very dirty wound. 

Nikki Battiste: That’s incredible, all from the hair.

Alexander Jason: All from the hair. The hair acted as a filter.

Nikki Battiste: Pretty fascinating. 

While Jason believes this scenario is what happened to Amy Fanion, he stops short of saying whether or not Brian Fanion killed his wife.

Alexander Jason: You see the hair filtered that stuff out.

But what he does believe is that basing the case on the absence of gunshot residue is wrong.

Alexander Jason: And he should not be convicted on that basis. … That’s my bottom line.

After 40 witnesses and 15 days of testimony, closing arguments began.

JEFFREY BROWN (in court) She raised the gun up to her head in a fit of rage … and in effect caused her own death.

MARY SANDSTROM (in court): This defendant murdered Amy Fanion with deliberate premeditation.

On March 21, 2023, the jury got the case. And after two days of deliberations, came the verdict.

Brian Fanion was found guilty of the first-degree murder of his wife, Amy Fanion, and sentenced to life without parole that same day.

Stephanie Barry: Brian’s side of the aisle just collapsed in sobs. … these people love Brian and sincerely thought that he was innocent.

For Assistant District Attorney Mary Sandstrom, Brian Fanion’s conviction was bittersweet and hard won.

Mary Sandstrom: It’s never a victory. … Amy Fanion should be here. … She should be with her daughter and son and her now grandchildren … And she’s not. … And … it was all for nothing … so that … Brian Fanion … could … enjoy his life and end hers.

Brian Fanion’s conviction is under appeal.


Produced by Marie Hegwood. Morgan Canty is the associate producer. Wini Dini, George Baluzy, Greg Kaplan and Chris Crater are the editors. Sara Ely Hulse and Elizabeth Caholo are the development producers. Lourdes Aguiar is the senior producer. Nancy Kramer is the executive story editor. Judy Tygard is the executive producer.