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Murder trial in Dewey case starts today in Crookston

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news Bemidji, 56619

Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

CROOKSTON -- Jury selection is expected to begin this afternoon in the murder trial of Thomas Lee Fairbanks, charged with shooting Mahnomen County Sheriff's Deputy Christopher Dewey Feb. 18, 2009.

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This morning, attorneys for both sides argued pre-trial issues before state District Judge Jeffrey Remick, including how the testimony of Fairbanks' admitted accomplice will be handled.

Dewey died from his injuries Aug. 9 last year and Fairbanks was charged with first-degree murder last fall; a lesser charge of second-degree murder also remains, as well as assault charges and a charge of failing to give assistance to Dewey after he was shot in the head and abdomen.

Fairbanks, 34, has been in jail in Crookston for more than a year. He appeared today in court wearing an aqua-blue dress shirt and dark slacks, with close-trimmed hair and glasses. The court "graciously" allowed him not to wear any leg or arm restraints during the trial, Judge Remick said during a discussion of security.

Jim Austad, a state public defender from St. Cloud, representing Fairbanks, along with Ed Hellekson, an attorney from Brainerd, asked the judge to not station a sheriff's deputy on duty as a bailiff so close to Fairbanks.

"It will look to the jury as if Mr. Fairbanks is a danger," Austad said.

Eric Schieferdecker, Bemidji, who is prosecuting Fairbanks for the state attorney general's office, along with attorney John Gross, said having two bailiffs in the court room is standard for such a serious alleged crime.

Judge Remick said perhaps the defense counsel could shift its table a short distance away from the nearest bailiff.

Daniel Vernier, who was with Fairbanks in the Mahnomen, Minn., home where Dewey, responding to a drunk-driving call, was shot, appeared in court today.

He pleaded guilty in 2009 to not rendering aid to Dewey and served a two-year sentence. Part of his plea agreement was to testify at Fairbanks trial. But because any testimony he gives may be used by federal authorities to bring other charges against him, Judge Remick warned him of the need to be advised by both a state public defender and a federal public defender, each assigned to represent Vernier during the trial.

Schieferdecker told the court he doesn't expect to call Vernier for at least two weeks.

The defense also argued it should be able to introduce evidence of Fairbanks need and use of prescription drugs for attention deficit disorder and anxiety, as well as "a handful of pills" he ingested, some through his nose, after shooting Dewey.

The point, Austad and Hellekson argued, is to show how Fairbanks' intoxication affected his actions the night Dewey was shot, including his responses to law enforcement and others in the days following his arrest. It's clear the prosecution is going to use evidence of Fairbanks' "smirking" and otherwise reacting in ways "most people would not," Austad said, as part of the possible penalty phase of the trial to show aggravating factors that could send him to prison for life without parole.

"The court has already limited the third-party shooter" defense, Hellekson told Remick. "Intoxication is the last remaining defense Mr. Fairbanks has in this case."

Remick is expected to rule later today on how much potential jurors can be asked about their experience with prescription medications and intoxication during jury selection.

Based on comments made in court today, jury selection is expected to take this week and more.

The Bemidji Pioneer and the Grand Forks Herald are both owned by Forum Communications Co.

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