Patrick Springer, Published September 19 2013
Bagola double murder case in hands of jury
FARGO – It was a tale of two confessions as lawyers argued Thursday for and against the guilt of Valentino Bagola in the stabbing murders of two children.
Prosecutors argued that “devastating evidence” supported Bagola’s confession to killing his cousins, Destiny Shaw, 9, and Travis DuBois Jr., 6, in May 2011.
But Bagola wasn’t the only suspect to confess to the killings, which cast a pall over the Spirit Lake reservation.
Investigators ended up discarding a confession from the slain children’s father, Travis DuBois Sr., concluding it was the result of the father’s guilt over failing to protect his children, and breaking down under an interrogation lasting more than 7 hours.
Defense lawyers seized on that confession, arguing that prosecutors failed to prove the father wasn’t the killer.
The conflicting confessions – and clashes over whether they were supported by evidence – highlighted Thursday’s closing arguments in Bagola’s trial in U.S. District Court.
Key pieces of evidence included the presence of Bagola’s bloody palm print on a computer and his DNA underneath the girl’s fingernails, the result of her scratches while struggling when the 20-year-old was raping her, said Chris Myers, an assistant U.S. attorney.
Her younger brother died trying to protect his sister, Myers said, a true hero who ironically wore clothing embossed with superhero icons, including Spiderman, when he was murdered.
“He needed to silence these two kids,” Myers said, referring to Bagola’s motive. “They’re witnesses to child sexual abuse.”
The prosecution argued that Bagola was able to provide crucial details about the attacks that only the killer would know, including disposing of knives in trash bags behind the DuBois house and in the kitchen.
Bagola himself volunteered that he discovered he had been scratched on the arms and chest while taking a shower the morning after the attacks.
His palm print was found on a computer tower that had the boy’s blood on all six sides, left in the violent struggle. The boy was stabbed more than 60 times, his sister more than 40 times, according to autopsies.
The confession of the children’s father had many qualified statements, and became more detailed as the interrogation progressed.
“We have admission, no question about it,” Myers said. “We have no detail – no detail.” He added: “That interview was seven hours of suggestion, interruption and no detail.”
DuBois was an “oblivious drunk, not a criminal mastermind” who covered up his guilt, the prosecutor said.
A videotaped interview of Stephon DuBois, the 4-year-old brother of the two slain children, believed to have been present in the house when they were murdered, was contradictory and of no value, Myers said.
Although the boy said his father killed his brother and sister, he also said his father was not the killer. Stephon was present when his mother accused DuBois of killing the children, and saw his father being arrested.
Public Defender Christopher Lancaster emphasized that DuBois made an unqualified, unambiguous confession – “I did it; no one else did” – and argued that evidence pointed to the father as the killer.
In his last interview with the FBI, DuBois said he “lost it” when the children “talked back” at him when jumping on the bed. DuBois said he “snapped out of it” after the attacks, went outside, and then returned to the kitchen.
Lancaster reminded jurors that knives believed to be the murder weapons were found in garbage bags outside and in the kitchen.
DuBois had ample motive to kill the children, Lancaster argued. His common-law wife had left him for another man, leaving him to take care of the kids, forcing him to miss work and therefore lose wages, he said.
Although Bagola provided details about the murder, he was privy to that information because he was a member of the family, and rumors were rampant on the reservation, Lancaster said.
Lancaster dismissed the DNA underneath the girl’s fingernails and the bloody palm print as “non-evidence.”
Experts cannot say when either was deposited, and the DNA beneath the fingernails could have been transferred from the tops of fingernails after they were clipped by the pathologist and comingled in a bag for each hand, Lancaster said.
“In truth they stand for nothing,” he said of the DNA and palm print touted by the prosecution.
Bagola, a nephew of the children’s mother, lived in the DuBois home for six weeks and babysat the children just days before their bodies were found on May 21, 2011, Lancaster said.
The defense characterized Bagola’s written confession as “piecemeal,” and argued that it had been compiled in response to FBI suggestions – an argument disputed by the prosecution, which noted that Bagola had suggested putting his statement in writing, and asked the agents for help spelling several words.
Jurors ended their deliberations Thursday night without reaching a verdict, according to an official with the U.S. Attorney's office.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522