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Wendy Reuer, Published February 05 2014

Minnesota Supreme Court upholds all but one charge against man convicted of killing Mahnomen County deputy

ST. PAUL – The Minnesota Supreme Court upheld all but one charge against the man convicted of shooting and killing a Mahnomen County deputy in 2009.

The high court affirmed the multiple convictions – including first-degree murder – of Thomas Lee Fairbanks, 37, but overturned one assault charge.

Fairbanks was convicted of shooting and killing Mahnomen County Sheriff Christopher Dewey in February 2009, after a night of drinking and drugs that led to a standoff with police. Fairbanks eventually admitted to shooting at the 27-year-old deputy, but denied any intent to kill him.

Fairbanks was found guilty by a Polk County jury of first-degree murder of a police officer, failure to render aid to a shooting victim, four counts of first-degree assault, being a felon in possession of a firearm, and attempted theft of a motor vehicle.

According to court documents, the Supreme Court affirmed Fairbanks’ convictions, including three of four charges of assault to a peace officer. It reversed one assault conviction, citing a lack of evidence to prove Fairbanks fired a gun in the direction of officers first.

Court documents said Fairbanks asked the Supreme Court to overturn his convictions based on four arguments:

Attorneys for Fairbanks argued that his case should not have been moved from Mahnomen County to Polk County. Prosecutors asked that the case be moved because of the public and media attention in Mahnomen County where the incident happened.

Attorneys for Fairbanks also said that a “common law year and a day rule” barred prosecution of Fairbanks.

It was more than a year after the shooting that Fairbanks was tried for murder. Dewey was shot in in the head and abdomen in February 2009. He then spent months trying to recover until dying due to complications from the injuries on Aug. 9, 2010.

Court documents say the Supreme Court found no such rule in Minnesota.

Attorneys for Fairbanks also argued that some photographs, including autopsy photos, should not have been used and that the assault convictions were unfair because it is not proven if Fairbanks shot at deputies first.

While the Supreme Court found enough evidence to support three assault charges, the court said the fourth charge was not upheld because evidence that Fairbanks shot first at officers was “purely circumstantial evidence to prove that Fairbanks fired toward the squad car,” court documents said.

Fairbanks was sentenced to life in prison without parole, an automatic sentence in Minnesota for the conviction of first-degree murder. The one reversal will not change Fairbanks’ sentence.

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