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Fairbanks trial: Prosecution rests case

CROOKSTON - The prosecution rested its case about 1:20 p.m. Monday in the murder trial of Thomas Fairbanks after calling about 47 witnesses since opening arguments Aug. 17.

The defense called four witnesses Monday, including Fairbanks' admitted accomplice, Daniel Vernier, who had to be let out of jail to testify. Vernier is slated to continue on the witness stand Tuesday.

Fairbanks faces a charge of first-degree murder in the shooting of Mahnomen County Sheriff's Deputy Christopher Dewey on Feb. 18, 2009. If convicted, he would face a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole. Fairbanks, 34, also faces several lesser charges, including first-degree assault on several law enforcement officers for allegedly shooting toward them from his mobile home during the ensuing nine-hour standoff.

Dewey died Aug. 9, 2010, in hospice care from complications from the gunshot injury to his head, according to the autopsy report. Fairbanks' defense attorneys have acknowledged he shot Dewey, but argue he was too intoxicated to form the criminal intent required for first-degree murder.

Vernier surrendered several hours before Fairbanks and dropped the gun used in the shooting on the ground outside Fairbanks' home.

He pleaded guilty in 2009 to a charge of failing to assist Dewey after he was wounded and agreed to testify for the prosecution, which dropped 16 other, more serious charges against Vernier.

The prosecution never called Vernier, and defense attorney Ed Hellekson called him to buttress the case the two men had spent about nine hours drinking before Dewey was shot about 7 a.m., including several hours in the Shooting Star casino in Mahnomen.

Vernier, as well as Fairbanks' aunt, Robin Ankeny, and Fairbanks' girlfriend, Jamie Stevens, testified Monday that Fairbanks was intoxicated by about 1 a.m. the day of the shooting. Hellekson showed the jury security video from the casino that showed Fairbanks and Vernier drinking from a pop bottle half-filled with liquor and being escorted out of the casino for drinking. The video also showed them driving out of the parking lot with Fairbanks apparently having trouble driving straight, or at all.

Vernier's appearance appeared to be uncertain the past week, according to statements made in the courtroom. He has been in the Stearns County jail in St. Cloud since Aug. 2 on a charge of assault on his longtime girlfriend, Rachel Fairbanks, the sister of Thomas Fairbanks, with whom he has three children.

Because federal authorities could use Vernier's testimony about the events the night of the shooting against him in a federal case of a felon being in possession of a firearm, Vernier has a federally appointed defense attorney to advise him on his testimony in Fairbanks' trial.

Prosecutors Eric Schieferdecker and John Gross, both assistant attorney generals for the state, took over the case at the request of Mahnomen County. The trial was moved to Crookston because of defense concerns about pre-trial publicity, but it remains a Mahnomen County case.

The prosecution spent about 6½ days calling witnesses. Their run was interrupted while the defense's expert witness, John Nixon, known for testing guns, testified on Aug. 23. The jury was given Aug. 22 off while both sides argued over the parameters of Nixon's testimony.

Schieferdecker, who had called Jamie Stevens as a prosecution witness, cross-examined her Monday as a defense witness by asking if she had kept in contact with Fairbanks, had expressed love to him in "numerous ways," and promised "to stand by him always." Yes, Stevens said.

Defense attorneys have said Fairbanks will testify in his own defense, but that would happen later this week, and that isn't certain, they told state District Judge Jeff Remick on Monday.

Jim Austad, one of Fairbanks' two attorneys, sought to get several of the assault charges against Fairbanks dismissed Monday, arguing that the evidence of whether Fairbanks shot toward certain officers during the standoff was too vague to support the charges. Remick denied Austad's request, saying the jury could weigh the evidence.

Remick did, however, drop the charge alleging Fairbanks assaulted Vernier by shooting toward him inside his home, after prosecutors agreed to the move. Emily Dewey, widow of the slain deputy, again attended the trial Monday, as did Fairbanks' mother.