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Man convicted of killing Mahnomen deputy who studied in Hibbing

Mahnomen County Sheriff's Deputy Christopher Dewey1 / 2
Thomas Lee Fairbanks2 / 2

CROOKSTON, Minn. - A jury here found Thomas Lee Fairbanks guilty of first-degree murder in the shooting of Mahnomen County Sheriff's Deputy Christopher Dewey, bringing gasps in the court room as the verdict was announced.

The charge carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole. Prosecutors asked state District Judge Jeff Remick to sentence Fairbanks, who turns 35 this month, immediately. Defense attorneys asked for time to file an appeal.

Remick met with both sides for 20 minutes in his chambers, then ruled Fairbanks will be sentenced Sept. 9 in Mahnomen. The judge said he wants to move the sentencing back to Mahnomen, Minn., where Fairbanks shot Dewey, a 2003 graduate of Hibbing Community College.

The venue of the trial was moved to Crookston because of concerns about pre-trial publicity.

The jury deliberated about nine hours Wednesday evening and today before telling the court about 3:15 p.m. it had reached a verdict, which was announced about 4 p.m.

The jury of five women and seven men also found Fairbanks guilty 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.

On two of the assault charges, the jury apparently found there wasn't enough evidence Fairbanks shot toward the officers named in the charge. The first-degree assault of a peace officer carries a minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum sentence of 20 years.

Fairbanks also was found guilty of failing to assist Dewey after he was shot, being a felon in possession of a firearm and trying to steal Dewey's squad car after he shot him in the head and torso.

Fairbanks' mother, Roberta Fairbanks, was held on each side by a friend and a sister, and sobbed after the verdict. The courtroom was cleared to let seven relatives and friends of Fairbanks stand across the wooden panel from him. As he finally was able to face his family close up in the courtroom after a month-long trial in which he remained ramrod straight and stoic in his chair, Fairbanks' face began to crumple and he cried as he looked at his mother.