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Fairbanks trial verdict acts as sobering reminder

Thursday afternoon, Thomas Lee Fairbanks was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Mahnomen County Sheriff's Deputy Christopher Dewey.

It was the right and fair decision by a jury who weighed all the evidence before them.

It was also an important verdict because it firmly reestablishes that peace officers who often put their lives on the line to protect us must also be protected from unjust excuses for unforgivable behavior.

When Deputy Dewey responded to a disturbance call on that morning in February 2009, he was responding to a citizen's call for help.

The men who left him shot and clinging to life out in the cold had been drinking and on drugs all night, causing problems for others.

Triggerman Fairbanks took the stand in his own defense and tried to blame away his poor decisions on the excessive booze and drugs he consumed with accomplice Daniel Vernier.

The defense argued that the two men were so blitzed that they couldn't know the gravity of their actions, and therefore Fairbanks shouldn't be convicted of intentional murder.

The jury rightly decided otherwise.

People must be held accountable for their actions in a civilized society.

It's true that the excessive use of alcohol and drugs likely kept Fairbanks and Vernier from thinking clearly. But that was a decision they made, which led to poorer and poorer decisions as the night wore on, culminating in the murder of a law enforcement officer who was just doing his job.

Alcohol and drug use is a huge problem for our society, and especially so on America's Indian reservations.

Police officers will tell you that half or more of all crimes they see have alcohol or drugs at the center of them. On Indian reservations, it's even more endemic.

To reduce the likelihood of crimes such as this, we must all recognize that excessive alcohol and drugs do play a role in our being less safe in our society.

That's not to say prohibition is the answer, because it's not. Putting consumption underground does more harm than good.

It has to do with looking out for each other a little more, making sure that excessive use of alcohol and drugs doesn't put anyone in harm's way.

And it starts with you: Take away the car keys or confront a friend or acquaintance who is under the influence and putting himself or others in harm's way. Hold a family intervention or attend a support group to help a loved one turn the corner. Or recognize your own poor behavior brought on by alcohol or drugs.

We have much of the power to keep really bad decisions from affecting ourselves and others.

Thomas Fairbanks may not have planned to kill a police officer that day in 2009, but it happened.

Whether alcohol and drugs were a factor is not an excuse. -- The Forum