By Rachel Kytonen
The gunman in the shooting of Mahnomen County Sheriff’s Deputy Christopher Dewey will spend the rest of his life in prison.
On Thursday, Sept. 1, Thomas Lee Fairbanks, 34, was found guilty of first degree murder in the shooting of Deputy Dewey. Sentencing for Fairbanks is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 9, in Mahnomen, and the charge carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.
Deputy Dewey, a 2001 graduate of Cambridge-Isanti High School, sustained bullet wounds to the head and abdomen while investigating reports of gun shots during the early hours of Feb. 18, 2009, near Mahnomen, Minn. He died Aug. 9, 2010 from complications of those injuries.
The jury also found Fairbanks guilty on Sept. 1 of four of six charges of first-degree assault on a peace officer for allegedly shooting the same gun toward the officers during the ensuing standoff Feb. 18, 2009.
He was also found guilty of two counts of second-degree assault; of failing to assist Dewey after he was shot; of being a felon in possession of a firearm and of trying to steal Dewey’s squad car after he shot him.
Mahnomen County Sheriff Doug Krier said Tuesday, Sept. 6, that 10 out of the 18 employees in his department were in the Crookston courtroom when the verdict was read.
“We felt a sigh of relief,” Sheriff Krier said when the verdict was read. “We are happy with the verdict, and feel the verdict that came down was the right one. I talked with the family and they are also extremely happy with the outcome.”
Since the shooting, it has been hard on the Mahnomen County Sheriff’s Department.
“We are a small family up here,” Sheriff Krier said. “When we are at full strength we have a total of 19 in our department. When you take one out of the mix, it’s hard on us.”
Sheriff Krier pointed out Deputy Dewey’s sentencing date, is significant.
“I think this is ironic that his sentencing is Sept. 9 which is also Chris’ badge number, 909,” Sheriff Krier said. “I think this is his way of looking down on us and saying, ‘I got you.’ We took a vote as a department, and decided to retire badge number 909. No one will ever wear that number again.”
Sheriff Krier said since he was scheduled as a witness, he couldn’t attend the first few days of the trial. But after he testified, he attended each day of the trial.
“I think the sentencing will give everyone some closure,” Sheriff Krier said. “Some people have asked me what it’ll be like to have life back to normal—normal ended Feb. 18, 2009. What is normal now, is on a different level.”
The community support, as well as support from law agencies across the state, has been overwhelming.
“There’s been a lot of support from our community, as well as from our law enforcement family from across the state,” Sheriff Krier said.
Attorney General Lori Swanson, whose office prosecuted the case at the request of Mahnomen County officials, said Deputy Dewey made the ultimate sacrifice.
“When an officer falls in the line of duty, all Minnesotans share in the loss,” Swanson said. “Deputy Dewey made the ultimate sacrifice to protect others. Nothing can bring him back, but I hope this conviction brings a measure of justice for Deputy Dewey’s family, the law enforcement community, and all of Minnesota.”
Sheriff Krier said Fairbanks will remain in Tri-County Jail in Crookston until he’s turned over to the Department of Corrections. Once he’s in the hands of Corrections, he will be taken to St. Cloud prison and then possibly transferred elsewhere.
Fairbanks was indicted by a grand jury in September 2010 with murder in the first-degree of a peace officer and twelve other charges. In addition to the first-degree murder charge, the grand jury indicted Fairbanks on six counts of first-degree assault, three counts of second-degree assault, felon in possession of a firearm, failure to render aid and attempted theft of a motor vehicle.
In September 2009, Fairbank’s accomplice, Daniel Kurt Vernier, was sentenced to two years in prison. Vernier pled guilty to the charge of failure to render assistance to the wounded deputy.