Patrick Springer, Published September 11 2013
Father's confession in Spirit Lakes slayings lacked details; motive unclear
“Do you admit you did this?” FBI Special Agent Brian Cima asked DuBois, who was the prime suspect in the May 2011 deaths of his 9-year-old daughter, Destiny, and 6-year-old son, Travis DuBois Jr.
“Yes,” the father said in a lengthy video-recorded interview played Wednesday for the jury in the trial of Valentino “Tino” Bagola, who is charged in U.S. District Court with the murders.
“That’s a huge step,” said Aaron Kellerman, another FBI agent, congratulating DuBois on his admission, which came about six hours into a jailhouse interview that lasted more than seven hours.
Despite admitting responsibility for the deaths and expressing tearful remorse, DuBois repeatedly said he was unable to recall how he killed his children, or what “set me off.”
DuBois was being held in the jail in Devils Lake on charges of public intoxication and reckless endangerment. He was arrested and taken into custody two days earlier, on May 21, after the children’s bodies were found in a bedroom of their home in St. Michael on the Spirit Lake reservation.
Bagola was indicted for the murders more than a year later, in July 2012, after FBI forensic scientists found his DNA underneath the girl’s fingertips, and after he admitted killing both children and raping Destiny.
“I’m sorry what I did to Destiny and Travis,” DuBois said as the video-recorded interrogation continued and he elaborated on his guilt. “Very sorry.”
A moment later, weeping, he added, “I love my kids” and went on to wonder out loud, “What the (expletive)’s wrong with me?”
Throughout the interview, the agents prodded DuBois, using alternating strategies to extract a confession, sympathizing with his childhood one moment and confronting him the next with his children’s violent deaths.
DuBois, who had served for 15 years as a firefighter and was an Army veteran, was raised by his grandparents. He said he was sometimes abused by a deaf uncle, once being beaten by an electric cord.
The agents repeatedly suggested that DuBois must have snapped from the accumulation of years of frustrations, anger and resentment. His common-law wife had recently left him, and left him to care for their four young children.
Again and again, DuBois said he was unable to recall any details of the children’s deaths – and few details of the three days leading up to the discovery of the bodies by his estranged common-law wife, Mena Shaw.
Asked about his motivation, DuBois at first said he must have been angered because the children were jumping up and down on their bed. The children’s bodies were found near a mattress, with the boy partly underneath.
Later, DuBois said the children sometimes “talk back,” and that might explain his rage.
“I don’t remember getting the knife,” he said.
He added a moment later: “It just doesn’t make any sense to me. I was a monster for five minutes, but why?”
The agents were exasperated by DuBois’ befuddlement and inability to recall details, despite his willingness to admit guilt.
“Let’s talk about those five minutes,” Kellerman said, then asked DuBois to explain his motive. “What is inside yourself telling you you did this?”
More than once, DuBois said he knew he was an obvious suspect, since he was in the house where the children were killed, and he was supposed to take care of them.
By his own account, DuBois said he drank beer heavily from the time the children were last seen alive, on Wednesday, May 18, until the discovery of their bodies three days later.
He said he drank mostly while alone, although he was joined by friends on Thursday for about an hour. He recalled making a beer run and driving his toddler son, Stephon, to Devils Lake for breakfast, but otherwise recalled little, blaming “blackouts” from his binge drinking.
Kellerman, suggesting the murders were part of a “cycle” of drinking and periodic spikes of anger, confronted DuBois with police reports of past domestic violence and assault complaints.
It was time, Kellerman repeatedly said, for DuBois to accept responsibility and to end that cycle.
As the long interview was drawing to a close, DuBois said he told the agents he had placed a TV set on his daughter’s head because that was suggested to him.
At times, the agents noted that DuBois was simply parroting details they had suggested in the interview.
The most specific description DuBois offered was placing a blanket or blankets over the children, who were found beneath a blanket.
“I just put it over them lightly,” DuBois said.
Asked once again why he did it, he answered, “I had to do it if it was me.” He elaborated: “I had to do all of that. I’m trying to think.”
Saying he was tired and wanted to lie down, DuBois brought the long interview to a close. Cima used a cotton swab to obtain saliva samples to collect DNA, and also obtained DuBois’ fingerprints and a hair sample.
When the video of the interrogation was finished, prosecutor Chris Myers asked Cima a few questions.
“Did he tell you any of the details of the murder that weren’t suggested?” Myers asked.
“No he didn’t,” Cima said.
But DuBois remained a suspect, and remained in custody on the public intoxication and reckless endangerment charges, until evidence pointed to Bagola.
Bagola’s trial will continue Thursday with Cima’s testimony. Prosecutors expect to conclude their case on Tuesday, and the defense expects its case to take three or four days to present.
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Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522