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Patrick Springer, Published December 06 2013

Federal judge denies Bagola's motion for acquittal, new trial

FARGO – A judge has denied a motion for a new trial in the case of a man convicted of the stabbing deaths of a brother and sister on the Spirit Lake Reservation.

U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson ruled there was “ample evidence” supporting first-degree murder convictions against Valentino Bagola for the 2011 deaths of Destiny Shaw and Travis DuBois Jr.

Bagola, the siblings’ cousin and sometimes baby sitter, was convicted of their slayings on Sept. 23.

The children were found dead by their mother, Mena Shaw, in a bedroom of the family’s home in St. Michael on May 21, 2011.

In his motions for acquittal and a new trial, Bagola resurrected arguments made at trial – rejected by jurors – that the children’s father, Travis DuBois Sr., was the murderer.

DuBois was at home for several days before the discovery of the children’s bodies, drinking beer heavily.

Under prolonged and intense questioning by two FBI agents, DuBois eventually admitted killing the children, though he said he could not recall doing so, a confession he later recanted.

Bagola also confessed to the murders but later claimed the confession was obtained improperly, “riddled with inaccuracies” and was not supported by the evidence.

Erickson rejected Bagola’s arguments, finding strong corroboration for his confession, including scientific evidence. His DNA was found underneath Destiny Shaw’s fingernails, and his palm print was found on a bloody computer tower in the bedroom where the children were slain.

Also, Erickson said in his decision, Bagola knew details that no one else knew, including the fact that a knife was broken in stabbing the boy. Bagola also volunteered that he found scratches and bite marks on his body after the murders.

“The purported inaccuracies in Bagola’s statements identified by defense counsel were pointed out and argued forcefully to the jury,” Erickson wrote.

“The jury watched and listened to Bagola’s statements. The jury also had the opportunity to consider Travis DuBois Sr.’s statements in which he denied involvement in the murders, then confessed that he was responsible for the murders, and then denied he was involved in the murders,” the judge wrote.

Although neither confession perfectly matched the crime scene, the fact that jurors did not find Bagola guilty of premeditation shows they carefully deliberated in weighing the evidence, Erickson wrote.

“The verdict was not based on mere conjecture or speculation,” he said in his decision.

Separately, a federal magistrate rejected Bagola’s claims that he had ineffective counsel. The motion was made prematurely, U.S. Magistrate Karen Klein ruled, since Bagola has not yet been sentenced.

Bagola’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for Dec. 16.

Neil Fulton, the federal public defender, whose office represents Bagola, could not be reached for comment Friday on whether his client will appeal Erickson’s decision.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522