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Fairbanks found guilty of murder of Deputy Chris Dewey

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news Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

CROOKSTON -- A jury here Thursday found Thomas Lee Fairbanks guilty of first-degree murder in the shooting of Mahnomen County Sheriff's Deputy Christopher Dewey, bringing gasps in the court room as the verdict was announced.

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The charge carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole. Prosecutors asked state District Judge Jeff Remick to sentence Fairbanks, who turns 35 this month, immediately. Defense attorneys asked for time to file an appeal.

Remick met with both sides for 20 minutes in his chambers, then ruled Fairbanks will be sentenced Sept. 9 in Mahnomen. The judge said he wants to move the sentencing back to Mahnomen, Minn., where Fairbanks shot Dewey, because of the many victims there, as well as Fairbanks' family and friends.

The venue of the trial was moved to Crookston because of concerns about pre-trial publicity.

The jury deliberated about nine hours Wednesday evening and Thursday before telling the court about 3:15 p.m. it had reached a verdict, which was announced about 4 p.m.

The jury of five women and seven men also found Fairbanks guilty of four of six charges of first-degree assault on a peace officer for allegedly shooting the same gun toward the officers during the ensuing standoff Feb. 18, 2009.

On two of the assault charges, the jury apparently found there wasn't enough evidence Fairbanks shot toward the officers named in the charge. The first-degree assault of a peace officer carries a minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum sentence of 20 years.

Fairbanks also was found guilty of failing to assist Dewey after he was shot, being a felon in possession of a firearm and trying to steal Dewey's squad car after he shot him in the head and torso.

Fairbanks' mother, Roberta Fairbanks, was held on each side by a friend and a sister, and sobbed after the verdict. The courtroom was cleared to let seven relatives and friends of Fairbanks stand across the wooden panel from him. As he finally was able to face his family close up in the courtroom after a month-long trial in which he remained ramrod straight and stoic in his chair, Fairbanks' face began to crumple and he cried as he looked at his mother.

Eric Shieferdecker, one of two state assistant attorney generals who prosecuted Fairbanks, said his department's rules keep him from commenting much.

But before he went into a room to talk with Dewey's wife and other family members, he said, "We're happy for the Dewey family."

Mahomen County Sheriff Doug Krier said Thursday that Dewey's badge number, 909, has been retired.

"Nobody else will ever wear that number," Krier said.

Dewey's replacement, Deputy Jake Thompson -- who took over after the man hired after Dewey was shot moved on to the U.S. Border Patrol -- was in court Thursday with a handful of other deputies from the county.

It's been a long time of stress for his department of 10 deputies, in addition to himself, Krier said.

"I think the best thing that is going to come out of this is that we will have some closure for the department but especially for the family (of Dewey)," Krier said. "This has been going on for two and a half years."

Having such a shooting of a law enforcement officer is so rare and damaging, he said.

But Deputy Dewey was doing his job and did nothing wrong, but simply fell to a bad event. Dozens of law enforcement officers from across the region responded that day to Mahnomen and the nine-hour standoff on a frigid February day after Dewy was shot.

One State Patrol Trooper testified he responded that morning, driving the 60 miles from Thief River Falls to Mahnomen in 28 minutes.

"Everything that happened, the officers did everything they were supposed to do," Krier said. "As to why it happened, we still don't have the answer."

Lee is a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald. The Herald and the Bemidji Pioneer are both owned by Forum Communications Co.

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