Patrick Springer, Published September 16 2013
Father of slain children said he felt pressure to confess
“I was just going along for no reason,” said Travis DuBois Sr., disavowing a confession made days after the killings. “I don’t know why. It’s not true.”
DuBois was the original prime suspect of the 2011 murders of his 9-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son.
The father of the murder victims took the witness stand in the government’s case against Valentino “Tino” Bagola, who is charged with murdering Destiny Shaw and Travis DuBois Jr., and raping the girl.
In direct examination by prosecutor Scott Schneider, DuBois said his inclusion of specifics in his confession came after those details first were mentioned by FBI agents interviewing him, including reference to a knife as the murder weapon and covering his dead children with a blanket.
In his testimony Monday, DuBois denied killing or hurting his children.
DuBois told jurors in U.S. District Court that he first learned the two siblings were dead on May 21, 2011, when their mother found the bodies in a bedroom of their home in St. Michael, N.D., on the Spirit Lake reservation.
According to witness testimony and his own statements, DuBois was in the home most of the preceding three days, drinking and watching television while absent from work because he was unable to find a babysitter.
Several days before the children were last seen, on the evening of May 18, the children’s mother, Mena Shaw, had left DuBois, leaving him to care for three of their four children.
After waking the next morning, on May 19, he called for the kids and checked for them in bedrooms. He assumed they were with their mother, or perhaps slept with friends next door, as they sometimes did.
“I assumed they were in school,” he said.
But the kids didn’t come home that afternoon – or the following day, and DuBois said he did not call the school or his wife to learn their whereabouts.
Yet, he made several trips to Devils Lake and elsewhere for food or to buy more beer, and spent most of the time at home, lounging on a mattress in front of the television, drinking beer.
“I had no idea that they were dead at the time,” DuBois said. “I didn’t take any action.”
On Friday afternoon, however, although DuBois did not see Destiny or Travis Jr. that day or the day before, he said he bought two large pizzas and some buffalo wings, assuming the children and their mother would return home.
In cross-examination, Bagola’s defense lawyer ridiculed DuBois’ assertion that he had driven around searching for his children earlier Friday afternoon, after his estranged common-law wife called about the children and they were discovered missing.
“You didn’t go looking for your kids on May 20,” public defender Christopher Lancaster said.
“Yes, I did,” DuBois said.
At the outset of his cross-examination, Lancaster focused on an interview DuBois gave while in custody to an FBI agent that included a polygraph examination.
That May 26 interview came three days after an interrogation lasting almost 7½ hours with two other FBI agents, in which DuBois confessed near the end of the lengthy interview.
Lancaster called attention to a series of incriminating details DuBois added in the May 26 interview that were lacking in his previous FBI statement.
During the polygraph, he at first denied stabbing or hurting the children, then changed his responses, telling Special Agent Mark Sitko that he hadn’t been telling the truth.
DuBois said he became angry at the two children because they were jumping up and down on their bed; that the kids “talked back,” and he “lost it.”
DuBois said he couldn’t recall attacking his children but remembered that he “snapped out of it.”
“I did it,” DuBois told Sitko. “No one else did it.” DuBois went on to tell the agent that he had been a good father until that point and said: “Sorry. Please forgive me.”
But when Sitko asked DuBois to make a handwritten confession, he asked for an attorney, and the interview ended. It was his last contact with the FBI as a suspect.
Left after accusation
In his cross-examination, DuBois admitted that he left after his common-law wife accused him of killing their two children.
“Instead of aiding their mother and holding your children for a long time, you chose to flee the scene, correct?” Lancaster asked.
“Correct,” DuBois said. He was reminded that, in earlier testimony, he said he had left to “clear my mind.”
Although the children’s mother, Mena Shaw, had left DuBois before, he acknowledged that when she left him days before the children were killed, the circumstances were different.
That time she had a college degree and a job at the tribal hotel-casino, though she was not contributing her earnings to family expenses, and he suspected she was seeing another man.
Prosecution testimony resumes Monday, and the defense case also might begin Monday.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522.