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Jury selection delayed in Dewey murder trial

CROOKSTON - Jury selection was postponed Monday afternoon as attorneys from both sides in the Thomas Fairbanks murder trial wrangled over whether the defense could introduce evidence that Fairbanks was intoxicated when he is alleged to have shot ...

CROOKSTON - Jury selection was postponed Monday afternoon as attorneys from both sides in the Thomas Fairbanks murder trial wrangled over whether the defense could introduce evidence that Fairbanks was intoxicated when he is alleged to have shot Mahnomen County Sheriff's Deputy Christopher Dewey on Feb. 18, 2009.

It was an unexpected delay in the trial as Minnesota District Judge Jeffrey Remick had planned to have potential jurors interviewed in a Crookston courtroom.

But when defense attorneys learned they might be barred from asking potential jurors about their knowledge and views of the use and abuse of alcohol mixed with prescription and other drugs, they asked for more time to make their pre-trial case before the judge.

The judge gave both sides until this morning to present briefs on the issue. After he rules, jury selection is slated to begin at 10:30 a.m. A pool of 150 potential jurors has been chosen, and they are scheduled to come in about 10 per day for interviews until a jury is chosen. The trial is expected to take a month.

Fairbanks, 34, is charged with first-degree and second-degree murder, as well as assault charges and failing to assist Dewey after he was shot.

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After a long struggle in hospitals, Dewey died Aug. 9, 2010, at home from his injuries.

Last fall, Fairbanks was charged with second-degree murder and then later was charged with first-degree murder. The lesser charge of second-degree murder also remains.

Fairbanks has been in jail since the shooting. He appeared in state district court Monday wearing a blue dress shirt and dark slacks, with close-trimmed hair and glasses. The court "graciously" allowed him not to wear any leg or arm restraints during the trial, Remick said during a discussion of security measures in the courtroom.

But two deputies working as bailiffs were stationed inside the courtroom, and extra law enforcement officers were on duty in and near the Polk County Justice Center, which includes the court and the Tri-County Jail. There have been hints that someone might make trouble because of the unusual nature of the case, with a law enforcement officer the victim of a murder, said a deputy on duty.

The case remains a Mahnomen County case but was moved to Crookston because the defense said it couldn't get a fair trial in Mahnomen.

Also Monday morning, both sides discussed how the testimony of Fairbanks' admitted accomplice will be handled.

Daniel Vernier, who was with Fairbanks the day of the shooting, appeared in court Monday. He pleaded guilty in 2009 to not rendering aid to Dewey and was sentenced to two years. He apparently is out of prison. Part of his plea agreement was that he testify at Fairbanks' trial, but because any testimony he gives may be used by federal authorities to bring other charges against him, Remick warned him of the need to be advised by both a state public defender and a federal public defender, each assigned to represent Vernier during the trial.

Remick said he expects opening arguments to begin Aug. 10 and closing arguments to likely be held on Aug. 26, with jury deliberations to begin Aug. 29.

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Stephen J. Lee writes for the Grand Forks Herald

Related Topics: CRIME
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