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Stephen J. Lee, Forum Communications Co., Published August 30 2011

Prosecution rests in Deputy Dewey murder trial

CROOKSTON – The prosecution rested its case about 1:20 p.m. Monday in the murder trial of Thomas Fairbanks after calling about 47 witnesses since opening arguments Aug. 17.

The defense called four witnesses Monday, including Fairbanks’ admitted accomplice, Daniel Vernier, who had to be let out of jail to testify.

Vernier is slated to continue on the witness stand today.

Fairbanks faces a charge of first-degree murder in the shooting of Mahnomen County Sheriff’s Deputy Christopher Dewey on Feb. 18, 2009. In convicted, he faces 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 that he shot Dewey, but argue that he was too intoxicated to form the criminal intent required for first-degree murder.

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

He pleaded guilty in 2009 to a charge of failing to assist Dewey after he was wounded and agreed to testify for the prosecution, which dropped 16 other more serious charges against Vernier. But the prosecution never called Vernier.

Defense attorney Ed Hellekson called him to buttress the case that the two men had spent about nine hours drinking before Dewey was shot about 7 a.m., including several hours in the Shooting Star casino in Mahnomen.

Vernier, as well as Fairbanks’ aunt, Robin Ankeny, and Fairbanks’ girlfriend, Jamie Stevens, testified Monday that Fairbanks was intoxicated by about 1 a.m. the day of the shooting.

Hellekson showed the jury security video from the casino that showed Fairbanks and Vernier drinking from a pop bottle half-filled with liquor, being escorted out of the casino for drinking. The video also showed them driving out of the parking lot, with Fairbanks apparently having trouble driving straight.

Vernier’s appearance appeared to be uncertain this past week, according to statements made in the courtroom. 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, with whom he has three children.

Because federal authorities could use Vernier’s testimony about the night of the shooting against him in a federal case of a felon being in possession of a firearm, Vernier has a federally appointed defense attorney to advise him on his testimony in Fairbanks’ trial.

Prosecutors Eric Schieferdecker and John Gross, both assistant attorney generals for the state, took over the case at the request of Mahnomen County. The trial was moved to Crookston because of defense concerns about pretrial publicity, but it remains a Mahnomen County case.

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

Jim Austad, one of Fairbanks’ two attorneys, sought to get several of the assault charges against Fairbanks dismissed Monday, 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 that Fairbanks assaulted Vernier by shooting toward him inside his home, after prosecutors agreed to the move.


Stephen J. Lee writes for the Grand Forks Herald