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Chuck Haga, Forum News Service, Published March 21 2013

Spirit Lake killings suspect seeks to block statements

FARGO – Attorneys representing the man accused of abusing and killing two children on the Spirit Lake Indian Reservation in 2011 asked a federal judge Thursday to suppress statements he made to FBI agents in July.

Valentino James Bagola, 19, of St. Michael, faces four counts of first-degree murder in connection with the deaths of Destiny Jane Shaw, 9, and her brother, Travis Lee DuBois Jr., 6. Their bodies were found on May 21, 2011, by their mother, Mena Shaw, beneath a mattress at the home she had once shared with the siblings’ father.

The brutal killings of the children – and the passage of 14 months before an arrest was made – tore at the Spirit Lake community and fueled a widespread belief that the tribe’s child protection system wasn’t working, a controversy that continues to roil and divide the tribe.

Bagola pleaded not guilty to the charges. He was originally scheduled to be tried last September. The trial start date was continued to April, but earlier this year it was moved further to Sept. 25.

Bagola was arrested July 21 while in the Grand Forks County Correction Center, where he was awaiting a court appearance on a state theft charge. He is being held now in Cass County Jail in Fargo.

His statements to the FBI agents included two videotaped interviews and a written statement, according to testimony at a motions hearing Thursday in U.S. District Court here Thursday.

In his statements, Bagola “admitted to (sexually assaulting) Destiny Shaw,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Myers told the court. “Those are his words.” He also admitted to stabbing Travis DeBois Jr. several times, Myers said.

Testimony at Thursday’s hearing also indicated that among items of evidence the government intends to present at trial are results of lab tests on DNA samples taken from Bagola when he was questioned by investigators in May 2012.

FBI agents obtained Bagola’s statements in July inappropriately, attorney Christopher Lancaster suggested, as they employed interrogation rather than interviewing techniques to persuade Bagola to waive his rights and provide his account of what had happened to the children.

But Special Agent Michael Smotrys, under questioning by Myers, offered a different description of the July 13 and July 16 interviews that he and Special Agent Brian Cima had with Bagola.

The suspect was read his Miranda rights, signed documents acknowledging that he understood those rights, and at no time was coerced or threatened or promised anything in return for the statements, Smotrys said.

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