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First two jurors chosen for Fairbanks' trial, Race expected to be issue in Dewey murder trial

Thomas Fairbanks

CROOKSTON, Minn. - The first jurors were selected Wednesday in the murder trial of Thomas Fairbanks. The two men chosen, a Crookston man and a retired Army sergeant who lives in retirement on a Polk County lake, were among the dozen interviewed Tuesday and Wednesday in the trial expected to last all month.

Fairbanks, 34, is charged with murdering Mahnomen County Sheriff's Deputy Chris Dewey and assaulting a dozen or more other people by shooting the same gun in a resulting standoff Feb. 18, 2009, in Mahnomen.

A Crookston woman was struck from the jury by the prosecution, which argued that her drug conviction eight years ago and drunken driving convictions by her siblings made her an undesirable juror. The defense protested the move.

Jim Austad, a Minnesota public defender assigned to represent Fairbanks, said the woman, who told the court she is Hispanic, is the first "person of color" interviewed for the jury in a trial in which racial issues are expected to be raised.

She also was the only person so far who said she has not been following the case in the news media, Austad said.

Minnesota District Judge Jeffrey Remick agreed with Austad that race would be an issue in this trial, because Fairbanks is an American Indian and Dewey was "a Caucasian."

But Remick added that the prosecution's reasons for challenging the woman being seated on the jury were valid and he upheld their challenge.

Later, after prosecutor Eric Schieferdecker objected to Austad's persisent questioning of another potential juror about whether she could be impartial, Remick upbraided Austad.

"I think you were badgering her, and it's going to stop," Remick said.

The woman was struck from the jury by Austad, who said in court that she appeared to have a lot of sympathy for Dewey.

Jury selection will continue today.

Stephen J. Lee writes for the Grand Forks Herald