The case a man accused of killing two children on the Spirit Lake Indian Reservation went to a federal jury Thursday after lawyers from both sides argued about the validity of a pair of confessions and scientific evidence.
Valentino "Tino" Bagola, 20, is charged with murder in the May 2011 slayings of 9-year-old Destiny Jane Shaw-Dubois and her 6-year-old brother, Travis Lee DuBois Jr., in St. Michael. The children's mother found their bodies under a mattress at the home she had once shared with their father, Travis DuBois Sr.
Jurors ended their deliberations Thursday night without reaching a verdict, according to an official with the U.S. Attorney's office.
The investigation originally centered on Travis DuBois Sr., who was interrogated by authorities but never charged with the crime. Defense attorneys spent much of the 13-day trial focusing on his confession, which he later recanted. Bagola was arrested more than a year later and also confessed to investigators.
Defense attorney Christopher Lancaster said during closing arguments that FBI agents manipulated an uneducated Bagola into confessing after they brought him into a small conference room late at night. DuBois Sr. had "life experiences" such as working for the fire department and serving his country in Iraq, and was not vulnerable like Bagola, Lancaster said.
Several times during his presentation, which lasted more than two hours, Lancaster interspersed the comments that DuBois Sr. made during his interrogation.
"I did it. No one else did it," the lawyer said, repeating DuBois Sr.'s words.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Myers said any admissions by the elder DuBois followed suggestions from investigators, but that there was nothing to back them up. Myers said Bagola gave details only a killer would know, such as explaining how he was scratched by the girl and his DNA was detected under her fingernails.
The prosecutor told the jury that the DNA was the key piece of evidence.
"That is so strong and so devastating that I could sit down," Myers said, halfway through his 50-minute closing.
He said DuBois Sr. was an oblivious drunk in the middle of a booze binge who was shocked and confused by the killings and felt guilty about not protecting his children. There were no details in his admissions, Myers said.
"When he drinks, he is a bad parent. You don't have to like it. I don't like it," Myers said. "But it doesn't make him a murderer."
Authorities allege that Bagola stabbed the children to death after he sexually assaulted the girl, and that he did so because he was angry at their father but couldn't find him. Myers said Thursday that Bagola realized he had to "silence a 9-year-old and 6-year-old" who were witnesses to child sexual abuse.
Page 2 of 2 - Lancaster criticized both the DNA evidence and Bagola's bloody palm print that was found on a computer in the bedroom where the bodies were discovered. He said Bagola's DNA could have been spread by casual contact and there was DNA from a third person that couldn't be identified. Lancaster said it's not known how long the palm print was on the computer and experts could not say whether the blood, from Travis DuBois Jr., was placed there before or after the print was there.
Lancaster said none of Bagola's DNA was found on two knives with blood on them and there's no evidence he was scratched.
The lawyers disagreed on the importance of video testimony by the 4-year-old brother of the victims, who in the course of the forensic examination gave various accounts of what happened and who killed his siblings. Lancaster pointed out to the jury that the brother did not mention Bagola's name during the interview.
The jury of eight women and four men received the case at 1:45 p.m. Thursday.
The trial comes in the midst of a U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs investigation into the tribe's child protection system, which came under fire last year with reports of children being abused.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Clare Hochhalter, who gave the rebuttal speech for the government, said Bagola admitted his guilt in the first interview with the FBI and never backed away from his comments.
"You know from having seen both (confessions), which one is reliable," Hochhalter said. "It's clear."