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By Stephen J. Lee, Forum Communications Co., Published August 03 2011

First juror picked in trial for man accused of killing Mahnomen deputy

CROOKSTON, Minn. - The first juror was selected this morning in the murder trial of Thomas Fairbanks. The Crookston man was the sixth of nine potential jurors interviewed Tuesday and this morning.

Fairbanks, 34, is charged with murdering Mahnomen County Sheriff's Deputy Christopher Dewey and assaulting a dozen or more other people by shooting the same gun in a resulting standoff in Mahnomen Feb. 18, 2009.

A Crookston woman was struck from the jury by the prosecution, which argued that her drug conviction eight years ago, and drunk driving convictions by her siblings, made her an undesirable juror. The defense protested the move.

Jim Austad, a Minnesota public defender assigned to represent Fairbanks, said the woman, who told the court she is Hispanic, is the first "person of color" interviewed for the jury in a trial in which racial issues are expected to be raised.

She also was the only person so far who said she has not been following the case in the news media, Austad said.

Minnesota District Judge Jeffrey Remick agreed with Austad that race would be an issue in this trial, because Fairbanks is an American Indian and Dewey was "a Caucasian."

But Remick added that the prosecution's reasons for challenging the woman being seated on the jury were valid and he upheld their challenge.

Remick told attorneys from both sides he would try to streamline the interviewing process to speed up jury selection.