Jury of 12 plus 4 alternates picked in Mahnomen deputy shooting trial
CROOKSTON - With two jurors selected today, the panel of 16 sought by the judge for the trial of Thomas Fairbanks was reached. Opening arguments are expected to begin Wednesday, a week later than Minnesota District Judge Jeff Remick initially had hoped.
During last-minute pre-trial motions that went into the evening, defense attorney Jim Austad sought another change of venue. Remick denied his motion.
Austad said pre-trial publicity in the news media, especially during the jury selection that began Aug. 2, exposed jurors to information, some of it discussed in court, that will not be admissable during the trial. That could prejudice jurors, he argued.
Fairbanks is charged with shooting Mahnomen County Sheriff's Deputy Christopher Dewey Feb. 18, 2009, causing his death Aug. 9, 2010. He's also charged with assaulting 10 other law enforcement officers and three other people during the ensuing standoff, as well as attempted theft of Dewey's vehicle and failing to assist Dewey after he was shot.
It was revealed in court today that in April, the defense filed a document with the court arguing that Dewey's death - in hospice care in his wife's parents' home - was euthanasia, and therefore Fairbanks had not caused it.
Prosecutor John Gross said the claim was, "frankly, insulting," especially since under Minnesota law, euthanasia is a crime.
The trial already was moved from Mahnomen to Crookston out of defense concerns about publicity. But Polk County is adjacent to Mahnomen County, served by many of the same newspapers, radio and television stations, Austad said. And it's a small community, of about 31,000 people, he said. Many jury candidates interviewed said they had followed the case in the news media, and quite a few knew some of the dozens of law enforcement officers named in court who may be witnesses in the trial, Austad said. Some knew Remick.
One woman was dismissed Tuesday because she had been good friends with the mother of defense attorney Ed Hellekson, who grew up in East Grand Forks.
Several juror candidates also said they had followed Dewey's medical treatment on the caringbridge website used by many hospitals to provide friends and family with updates on patients.
A juror candidate who said her father recently had died from brain cancer began to weep while being questioned, and after a break said she didn't think she could "put aside," her sympathy and empathy for Dewey and his family if she was on the jury.
Prosecutor John Gross countered that he had seen no evidence that any of the 16 jurors chosen were prejudiced against Fairbanks so that they could not be fair and impartial.
Remick denied the motion but said the record obviously remained open for the defense to raise the issue later.
Remick still is concerned that the lengthy jury selection process - individual interviews were required of jury candidates - has delayed the trial schedule so much that jurors selected early may not be able to serve the three weeks the trial is expected to take.
The first jurors selected beginning Aug. 2 were told the trial likely would be over days before the Labor Day holiday.
But Remick told jurors and attorneys from both sides today that the trial now might continue past Labor Day.
The 16 jurors and alternates include three college students and a school teacher and Remick said he wonders if they still believe they can serve with the later schedule. Because of that, he said he won't immediately swear in the jurors until he's certain they all can go the duration.
Remick asked nine still in the jury pool to call in Wednesday to see if they are needed for interviews in case any jurors tell the court they can't continue.
Remick said 104 people have been examined in the 11 days of jury selection. About 45 remain in the jury pool.
It all means that even now, on the threshold of opening arguments scheduled for Wednesday morning, jury selection may not be over after all.