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Wendy Reuer, Published September 09 2011

Thomas Fairbanks sentenced to life in prison for murder of Deputy Christopher Dewey

MAHNOMEN, Minn. – Thomas Lee Fairbanks stood solemnly, looking down or straight ahead, as District Court Judge Jeff Remick handed down the mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole for the murder of Mahnomen County Sheriff’s Deputy Chris Dewey plus two 10-year sentences to be served consecutively for shooting at other officers.

Fairbanks was found guilty of first-degree murder on Sept.1 in Polk County District Court.

The jury of five women and seven men also found Fairbanks guilty of four of six charges of first-degree assault on a peace officer for allegedly shooting the same gun toward the officers during an ensuing standoff in February 2009.

Fairbanks, 34, shot Dewey once in the head and twice in the torso about 7:04 a.m. Feb. 18, 2009. The deputy died Aug. 9, 2010.

The first-degree assault of a peace officer carries a minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum sentence of 20 years. First-degree murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.

Remick said crimes against peace officers, who put their lives on the line every day to protect and serve communities, are the most egregious acts against Minnesota law.

Before the sentencing, Dewey’s wife, Emily, submitted a written victim impact statement, which she asked not to be read aloud. She attended the hearing, sitting in the front row with 13 other members of Dewey’s family.

Mahnomen County Sheriff Doug Krier spoke on behalf of Dewey’s second family: law enforcement.

Krier said Dewey was responding to a report of drunken driving the morning of Feb. 18, 2009. If the incident would not have escalated, at best Fairbanks would have faced a misdemeanor charge.

“He made no mistakes; he was protecting our community …” Krier said of Dewey. After a long pause, he said, “And to have this happen to him is absolutely inexcusable.”

Krier said he knew almost all the details of the case – where it happened, when it happened – but there was still something missing.

“The only thing we don’t know is why,” Krier said with anger.

About two-dozen law enforcement men and women dressed in brown and blue uniforms filled the courtroom along with family and friends of both Dewey and Fairbanks. All remained stoic as the hour-and-a-half sentencing hearing progressed.

Defense Attorney Ed Hellekson read a statement written by Fairbanks. In the statement, Fairbanks said he did not intend to kill Dewey and that “terrible decisions led up to the tragedy.”

Fairbanks told the family of Dewey he realized no apology or amount of remorse would bring him back.

“I can’t take back my actions,” Fairbanks wrote.

He stated he remembered little from that night and that he felt he was unjustly tried and that media publicity did not allow him a fair trial, despite the venue change to Polk County.

“To my family, I’ve made poor choices, and I’ve hurt the people I love the most,” Fairbanks said in his statement. “They can take away my freedom, but they can never take away my love for you.”

Fairbanks’ sister, Rachel Fairbanks, sat behind her brother in a white T-shirt. “I love you bro!” was written on the back.

Remick denied her request to make a statement to the court on Friday.

Fairbank’s aunt, Rena Henry Viznor, was angry after the hearing, saying her nephew has not been treated fairly.

“We were not allowed to give a victim impact statement. They just completely ignored us,” she said. “My family has feelings, too. It’s not just the Dewey family that has suffered for this.”

Prosecutor Eric Schieferdecker said Fairbanks has shown no remorse. At times he seemed to bask in the attention from fellow inmates and media, Schieferdecker said.

Hellekson said that was not true, that Fairbanks continued to pray for Dewey’s recovery up to the day he died and for the well-being of Dewey’s family.

After the sentencing hearing, Remick asked the courtroom to stand as Emily Dewey was escorted out of the courtroom. She told reporters she did not wish to make a statement.

Fairbanks was later escorted out of the courtroom by Polk County deputies, who will eventually transport him to the Minnesota Correctional Facility in St. Cloud.

Outside the courthouse, Dewey’s family and friends hugged Krier while fellow law enforcement officers slowly disbanded, most with smiles.

Krier said it is a feeling of relief to have the trial and sentencing finally over. He said his office will now get back to a normal routine, although “normal” is now different.

“I just want to thank all of them, all the officers that were there today for their support,” Krier said. “We couldn’t have done it without them.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530