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Trial delayed for accused gunman in Dewey shooting case

Thomas Lee Fairbanks

The trial for the man accused of shooting Mahnomen County Deputy Christopher Dewey is postponed, and a schedule may not be set until it's clear whether he'll face a charge of first-degree murder.

Thomas Fairbanks was to stand trial starting on Sept. 20, but when prosecutors amended the charges after Dewey's death earlier this month, they didn't object to Fairbanks withdrawing his demand for a speedy trial, said Joe Parise, the defense attorney for Fairbanks.

Parise said he thinks the trial date is unlikely to be set before a decision about a grand jury is made by the prosecution team from the attorney general's office.

"It's my understanding they'll be taking a serious look at that," Parise said. "It's just kind of in the (attorney general's) ball court right now."

Parise said he's not sure if a grand jury will be convened, as the charging panels meet in secret. Minnesota law requires a grand jury indictment to charge first-degree murder.

Fairbanks, 33, is accused of shooting Dewey once in the head and twice in the belly on Feb. 18, 2009, in Mahnomen, Minn., as the deputy was investigating a report of drunken driving.

Numerous felony charges were filed in Mahnomen County District Court against Fairbanks, including a charge of attempted murder that was amended to second-degree murder two days after Dewey died on Aug. 9.

In a statement about the change in charges, Attorney General Lori Swanson noted Minnesota law has a first-degree murder charge for killing an on-duty officer. Swanson also said the first-degree charge would require an indictment and that the attorney general's office couldn't comment on grand-jury proceedings.

Conviction on a charge of first-degree murder carries a mandatory punishment of life in prison. The maximum prison term for second-degree murder convictions is 40 years.

Parise said the next court hearing in the case is set for Nov. 29, but trial scheduling is likely to be addressed at an earlier date.

Daniel Kurt Vernier, 28, was accused of being an accomplice in the shooting. He pleaded guilty last year to failing to render assistance to Dewey and is serving a two-year prison term.

He's expected to testify against Fairbanks at trial.