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Dave Roepke, Published July 17 2010

Deputy’s condition muddies court case

It’s been months since he has been able to speak, but Chris Dewey’s eyes got big when he saw what he had long hoped for Thursday.

Dewey, the former Mahnomen County (Minn.) deputy shot in the line of duty last year, helped blow up the helmet he wore for months as he recovered from gunshot wounds to his chest and head.

The police bomb squad from Minneapolis wired it to an explosive in a nearby field and let Dewey and his wife, Emily, hit the detonator as they looked out the window, said Mahnomen County Sheriff Doug Krier.

“He hated it, absolutely hated it,” Krier said of the safety helmet.

Unless Dewey rebounds in miraculous fashion, the helmet destruction may be a bright spot at the end of his life. His family has said doctors have given him no more than a week to live.

In a posting on Dewey’s online journal shortly after midnight Friday, sister-in-law Hannah Bergman said complications from a Botox treatment “will be fatal,” and he’s now in hospice.

“It is a difficult time for all, and especially Emily,” she wrote. “She has been with Chris through everything and it is time to let go. There are things much worse than dying and we all know that Chris will be going to a better place.”

It’s unclear what Dewey’s death would mean for the man accused of shooting him in the early morning hours of Feb. 18, 2009, after the deputy responded to a drunken driving report in the city of Mahnomen.

Thomas Fairbanks, the alleged shooter, is charged with more than a dozen felonies, including first-degree attempted murder. A Sept. 20 trial is to be held in Crookston, Minn., because of pretrial publicity, defense attorney Lynne Torgerson said on Friday.

Mahnomen County Attorney Julie Bruggeman was out of the office Friday, and the prosecutor in the state attorney general’s office leading up the case, Eric Schieferdecker, didn’t return a phone message.

Ben Wogsland, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said prosecutors will review the options if Dewey passes away.

Krier said he’s not talked with prosecutors about an amended charge of murder if his former deputy dies.

“That is up to them,” he said.

Even though 17 months have passed since the shooting, a charge of murder is “certainly possible,” said Kenneth Kohler, the Moorhead lawyer who served stints as county attorney in Clay and Nobles counties.

“That should be one of the things they’re looking at,” Kohler said.

Kohler said as long as the state could show the medical issues stretch back to the gunshot wounds – and there was no negligence or pre-existing conditions – the shooting could amount to murder.

“You’d definitely need the medical testimony,” he said.

Joe Parise, the Moorhead public defender who’d been Fairbanks’ attorney before Torgerson was hired, said the potential Dewey might die was something that he considered as an issue in Fairbanks’ case.

“The longer it goes on, the more it was a possibility,” Parise said.

Were a trial to be held or a guilty plea entered prior to Dewey’s death, prosecutors wouldn’t be able to go back and then add a murder charge, Kohler said. It would violate protections against double jeopardy.

For that same reason, the guilty plea entered last fall by an accused accomplice, Daniel Vernier, couldn’t be changed if Dewey died. He was sentenced to two years in prison and expected to testify against Fairbanks.

Bergman said in her post Dewey is being kept comfortable, and the deputy’s uncle, Eric Dewey, said his wife remained at his side.

“She’s hanging in there,” Eric Dewey said.

There’s been a constant stream of co-workers there, too. Krier said about half of his 20-person office made the trip on either Thursday or Friday to North Branch, Minn., where Dewey’s been in an assisted-living facility since this spring.

“We just wanted to go down and say our goodbyes,” Krier said.

Copyright © 2010 The Forum. All rights reserved. AP contributed to this report.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535