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Deputy Dewey murder trial: Jury away as attorneys argue over expert firearms witness

CROOKSTON, Minn. - The jury received a day off Monday in the murder trial of Thomas Fairbanks as attorneys from both sides argued before the judge over what should be admitted in a defense expert's testimony about trigger pulls on handguns.

CROOKSTON, Minn. - The jury received a day off Monday in the murder trial of Thomas Fairbanks as attorneys from both sides argued before the judge over what should be admitted in a defense expert's testimony about trigger pulls on handguns.

John Nixon is an Indiana firearms expert who has testified at several cases in Illinois. The defense team plans to have Nixon testify about how easily the trigger of a certain SIG Sauer semi-automatic handgun can be pulled to cause the gun to discharge.

In what is called a Frye-Mack hearing, the prosecution challenged whether Nixon's expertise is generally accepted in the scientific community and if his testing of trigger pulls on guns is done under acceptable standards.

The defense, in its opening argument, acknowledged that Fairbanks fired the SIG Sauer at Mahnomen County Sheriff's Deputy Christopher Dewey during a confrontation outside Fairbanks' mobile home on Feb. 18, 2009, in Mahnomen. He also is charged with shooting it from inside his home toward several other law enforcement officers in the ensuing standoff. The defense argues Fairbanks was too intoxicated to form the intent needed for first-degree murder.

Based on statements in court, the defense plans to argue that Fairbanks accidentally fired the gun, at least at times, that morning. Nixon's testimony about how easily the trigger could be pulled on a SIG Sauer handgun could help the jury determine if Fairbanks' intended to shoot it, defense attorney Jim Austad told state District Judge Jeff Remick.

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Prosecution attorney John Gross argued that Nixon's testimony was irrelevant because he had not tested the gun fired by Fairbanks. And Nixon's testing methods do not conform to generally accepted practices in the United States, Gross argued.

The prosecution called its own witness Monday against Nixon: Nat Pearlson, a firearms expert with the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension office in Bemidji who led the crime scene team in the Fairbanks case.

Pearlson, who test fired the Fairbanks gun in his Bemidji lab, said other measurements of trigger pull are more widely used in crime laboratories than the one Nixon uses.

Remick said he would rule on Nixon's testimony by this morning, just before the trial resumes with the jury back in the box.

Stephen J. Lee is a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald

Related Topics: CRIME
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