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Patrick Springer, Published December 16 2013

Bagola gets life sentence for double murder of Spirit Lake children

FARGO – Valentino Bagola left his home to stay with his cousins for what his mother hoped would be a fresh start in life.

Now he likely will spend a life in prison for the murder Destiny Shaw, 9, and her 6-year-old brother, Travis DuBois Jr.

He sometimes baby-sat the children, whose bodies were found May 21, 2011, in the bedroom of the DuBois family home in St. Michael, the victims of multiple knife wounds.

U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson on Monday sentenced Bagola to life in prison for two counts of first-degree murder.

The murders on the Spirit Lake reservation went unsolved for more than a year, and highlighted the plight of endangered children there.

Bagola’s life sentence was mandatory, so the only question at the sentencing hearing was whether the judge would order that the sentences be served consecutively, as the prosecution urged, or concurrently.

Prosecutor Chris Myers argued that back-to-back life sentences were appropriate for two heinous murders of children, who between them had been stabbed more than 100 times.

“These children were innocent – innocent victims of a predator,” he said, adding that both were bright children robbed of their potential.

“The defendant took away a daughter and a son, a sister and a brother,” Myers said, adding that Bagola violated the trust placed in him as a family member and older cousin of the children.

“After all that he was a pall bearer at their funeral,” Myers said. “It’s hard to describe the despicable nature of this defendant’s conduct.”

Bagola should serve a life sentence for each of the two victims, the prosecutor argued. “It boils down to, judge, each life deserves justice.”

Christopher Lancaster, Bagola’s public defender, did not try to minimize the violent murders of the two young children.

Although Bagola confessed to raping the girl and stabbing both children to death in a videotaped interview, he later recanted the confession.

Lancaster repeated Bagola’s claim of innocence, which he made throughout the trial. A jury convicted Bagola Sept. 23; he was 20 years old at the time of the trial.

“This is a very close question of fact,” Lancaster said. “That was apparent to all who were in the courtroom.”

When it came time for Bagola to make a statement, if he wished, the defendant declined with a single word, “No.”

Before imposing the sentence, Erickson listed a series of considerations.

“The barbarism of the attacks is unquestionable,” the judge said, adding they displayed “uncontrollable rage” by Bagola that posed a significant threat to public safety.

Although Bagola experienced some abuse and neglect in his background, it was impossible to assess, Erickson said, since he refused to discuss his past during the presentence investigation.

In the end, Erickson declined to impose back-to-back life sentences, saying they would be symbolic, since it was “almost inconceivable” that Bagola faced a future outside of confinement in prison.

“Once you’re sentenced to die in prison, you die in prison,” Erickson said, adding that a presidential pardon or commutation of the sentence was extremely unlikely.

“The law’s just never going to let him out of prison,” the judge said. “It’s just not going to happen.”

Bagola, whose motions for acquittal and a new trial were rejected, has two weeks to file an appeal. His lawyer asked that he be placed in a prison as close as possible to his hometown, Sisseton, S.D.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522