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By Stephen J. Lee, Forum Communications Co., Published August 29 2011

Prosecutors finish calling witnesses in Deputy Dewey murder case, defense lawyers up next

CROOKSTON, Minn. - The prosecution rested its case about 1:20 p.m. today in the murder trial of Thomas Fairbanks, after calling 50 or so witnesses since Aug. 17.

Fairbanks faces a charge of first-degree murder in the shooting of Mahnomen County Sheriff's Deputy Christopher Dewey Feb. 18,2009. If convicted he would face a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.

Fairbanks, 34, also faces several lesser charges, including first-degree assault on several law enforcement officers for allegedly shooting toward them from his trailer home during the ensuing nine-hour standoff.

Dewey died Aug. 9, 2010, in hospice care, from complications from the gunshot injury to his head, according to the autopsy report.

Fairbanks' defense attorneys have acknowledged he shot Dewey, but argue he was too intoxicated to form criminal intent. The defense is expected to call Fairbanks' admitted accomplice, Daniel Vernier, to the stand this afternoon.

Vernier surrendered several hours before Fairbanks and dropped the gun used in the shooting on the ground outside Fairbanks' home.

He has been in the Stearns County jail in St. Cloud since Aug. 2 on a charge of assault on his longtime girlfriend, Rachel Fairbanks, the sister of Thomas Fairbanks. He pleaded guilty in 2009 to a charge of failing to assist Dewey after he was wounded and agreed to testify for the prosecution. Prosecutors did not put him on the stand, but the defense has said it plans to put Vernier on the witness stand today.

Because federal authorities might use Vernier's testimony against him in a federal case of a felon being in possession of a firearm during the incident Feb. 18, 2009, Vernier has a federally appointed defense attorney to advise him on his testimony in Fairbanks' trial.

Defense attorneys also have said Fairbanks likely will testify in his own defense, but that would happen later this week, they told state District Judge Jeff Remick today.

Jim Austad, one of Fairbanks' two attorneys, sought to get several of the assault charges against Fairbanks dismissed today, arguing that the evidence of whether Fairbanks shot toward certain officers during the standoff was too vague to support the charges. Remick denied Austad's request, saying the jury could weigh the evidence. Remick did, however, drop the charge alleging Fairbanks assaulted Vernier by shooting toward him inside his home, after prosecutors agreed today to the move.