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Patrick Springer, Published September 06 2013

Defense tries to discredit FBI agent who interrogated man on trial in Spirit Lake slayings

FARGO – The defense on Friday challenged the chief FBI interrogator of the man on trial and charged with murdering a brother and sister on the Spirit Lake reservation.

In a series of questions on cross-examination, a lawyer representing Valentino “Tino” Bagola tried to discredit his client’s video-recorded statements, in which he confessed to stabbing both children and raping the girl.

Public Defender Christopher Lancaster also suggested that Michael Smotrys, the FBI agent who took the leading role in the interviews, effectively put words in Bagola’s mouth in eliciting admissions.

The exchange between the defense and important prosecution witness came as testimony continued in Bagola’s trial in U.S. District Court for the killings of Destiny Shaw-Dubois, 9, and her 6-year-old brother, Travis DuBois Jr.

In his opening statement on Wednesday, Lancaster asserted that Bagola’s recorded and written confession was coerced and is not supported by evidence, a point he tried to bolster in a barrage of questions.

Among the many defense points raised in questioning Smotrys:

E Although both children were repeatedly stabbed, the agent conceded that blood was not visible in a number of photographs taken inside the children’s home in St. Michael, where their bodies were found May 21, 2011.

E Only one bloody footprint was found, in a hallway near the bedroom where the bodies were found, apparently tracked by an emergency responder. In his questioning, Lancaster suggested that was at odds with Bagola’s statement that he walked through the house, turning on light switches, trying to find the children’s father, Travis DuBuois Sr., whom Bagola said was the original target of his rage.

E In his statement, Bagola said he used a knife to stab the children, which broke and which he disposed of in a trash bag outside the house. But FBI agents found two knives smeared with what appeared to be blood, one in the garbage bag outside and a larger knife in a trash can in the kitchen, with the blade broken off. A third knife was found on a living room chair, but the FBI concluded it was not linked to the attacks.

Friday’s testimony also included a patrol officer who was the first law enforcement officer to arrive after the siblings’ bodies were found.

Sgt. Terry Morgan of the Bureau of Indian Affairs police saw the children’s mother, who had discovered the bodies, crying and shrieking hysterically. The officer said he saw a man departing the scene, walking toward a nearby cemetery.

After calming the mother, the officer followed the man, who smelled of alcohol, illegal on the “dry” Spirit Lake reservation. He took the man, who was cooperative but appeared shaken, into custody.

The man turned out to be Travis DuBois Sr., who once confessed to killing his children, and later recanted. The defense has argued that the father was responsible for the children’s deaths, an assertion the prosecution said is not credible.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522