Patrick Springer, Published September 18 2013
Jurors view video of interview with 4-year-old who was in house when his siblings were killed
Stephon DuBois, who was 4 years and 10 months old when his 9-year-old sister and 6-year-old brother were found dead on May 21, 2011, was questioned the next day by a forensic interviewer in Grand Forks.
Valentino “Tino” Bagola is on trial in U.S. District Court, charged with murdering the two children and raping the girl.
In the video of the interview, shown by the defense, a fidgety Stephon is shown playing with toys and reluctant to discuss what happened to his older brother and sister.
Early in the interview, requested by the FBI as part of its investigation, Stephon said “Travis is dead” and “Dad shot him.”
The audio quality of the interview was poor, and many of the boy’s statements were unintelligible from the courtroom gallery.
When asked how his brother was killed, Stephon once said he was “shot” or “chopped,” and he made chopping motions with his hand on a Play-doh figure he was playing with.
At another point in the 69-minute interview, Stephon said his father had killed his brother with a TV.
According to earlier testimony, in his confession, Bagola said he struck Destiny with a TV, and a TV was found on or near her body.
Stephon also said he saw Travis bleeding on the neck and head, and said he was bloody all over.
The boy also at one point said his sister Destiny shot his brother.
Authorities believe the boy was in the home when his older siblings were killed, but according to testimony and lawyers’ statements it isn’t clear whether Stephon actually saw or heard what happened.
In arguing to allow the video to be shown to the jury, defense lawyer Richard Henderson called Stephon the “only potential eyewitness” in the case.
The video, which concluded the defense case, was shown in lieu of the boy testifying, which U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson said would be traumatic for the child.
Cari Lake of the Red River Children’s Advocacy Center conducted the interview, and took the witness stand when the video was shown.
In cross-examining Lake, and in arguments, the prosecution emphasized that the boy was present when his mother accused his father of killing the children, and was taken into custody.
At the outset, authorities suspected the children’s father, Travis DuBois Sr., who was accused by his estranged common-law wife, Mena Shaw, the children’s mother.
The video was shown over prosecution objections. Prosecutors argued that the boy’s statement was hearsay and not reliable, but Erickson said he would allow the jury to view it, saying the boy appeared competent.
In testimony with the jury absent, a counselor who met with Stephon in about 30 sessions after his siblings were killed said she was not clear about what the child knew about the murders.
“He couldn’t provide any details of what happened to his siblings,” though he said his father was the killer, said Christine Bushy, a counselor for the Village Family Service Center in Devils Lake.
“He also indicated he was hiding in a closet,” Bushy said. “I’m not sure what he witnessed, if he witnessed anything.”
Bushy tried to avoid testifying, asserting that any comments she heard as a counselor was privileged, but was ordered to testify solely about what she heard from Stephon so the judge could decide whether she would be allowed to testify for the defense in front of the jury. She did not.
Lawyers for both the prosecution and defense will present their closing arguments Thursday, and the case will go to the jury for deliberation.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522