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By Stephen J. Lee, Forum Communications Co., Published August 17 2011

Juror faints in first hour of Fairbanks trial; court recesses

Prosecutor's opening argument interrupted by dramatic scene

CROOKSTON, Minn. - A juror fainted this morning during the prosecution's opening argument in murder trial of Thomas Fairbanks, causing a sudden recess in what has been a much-delayed case.

More than a half-hour into prosecutor Eric Schieferdecker's opening, a female juror fell over the arm of her chair, with her head behind the adjacent chair, nearly to the ground. Other jurors and court officials rushed to help her and she soon was sitting up, drinking a cup of water.

Schieferdecker, one of two assistant attorney generals prosecuting Fairbanks, suggested to Minnesota District Judge Jeff Remick that the court recess.

The woman was taken out of the Polk County Justice Center in a wheelchair to Riverview Health Center in Crookston to be examined.

For the first time since the trial opened Aug. 1, the visitors' benches were full of spectators and the jury box was more than full. The 16 people selected to be either jurors or alternates are sitting in a space built for 14; two chairs were added at one end to accommodate the larger-than-normal panel.

Remick wanted 16 on the jury to ensure it would last during a trial expected to last about three weeks or perhaps more.

Fairbanks, 34, is charged with first-degree murder of a peace officer in the Feb. 18, 2009 shooting of Mahnomen County Sheriff's Deputy Christopher Dewey, who died Aug. 9, 2010, in hospice care from complications from his treatment for his injuries.

Schieferdecker's opening included graphic photos displayed on a large screen in the court room of Dewey's injuries from three gunshots, two to his torso and one to his head, as well as the emaciated condition he was in the last months of his life.

A year after the shooting, Dewey was assessed by a St. Cloud physician, Schieferdecker told the jury.

"He saw a man with the bladder of a newborn, he had to wear a catheter... he had blood clots in both legs... he showed signs of stress on his heart from infections... He couldn't go to the bathroom, couldn't move and was unable to communicate," Schieferdecker said.

Dewey's wife, Emily, seemingly could interpret Dewey's facial expressions, and by early March 2010, "Emily felt Deputy Dewey began to give up," Schieferdecker said. "He was in constant pain."

The juror fainted about at that point in Schieferdecker's opening argument.

The court recessed until the juror's condition could be determined by a physician.