FARGO - Valentino “Tino” Bagola was their older cousin and sometimes baby sitter. He served as a pallbearer at their funeral. Now he is their convicted murderer.
A jury on Monday convicted Bagola, 20, of the brutal stabbing deaths of siblings Destiny Shaw, 9, and Travis DuBois Jr., 6. Their bodies were found May 21, 2011, in a bedroom of their home in St. Michael on the Spirit Lake Reservation.
The jury of eight women and four men deliberated 12 to 14 hours since getting the case Thursday afternoon before delivering their verdict about 1 p.m. in U.S. District Court.
Jurors convicted Bagola of two counts of felony murder, finding he also committed child abuse and, in the case of Destiny, child sexual abuse. They did not find Bagola guilty of premeditated murder.
“We’re very pleased with the verdict,” said Chris Myers, an assistant U.S. attorney and the lead prosecutor in the case. “I think this was a very attentive and conscientious jury who looked at the evidence and saw it as we did.”
The case came with an unusual complication, conflicting confessions from Bagola and from the father of the two slain children, Travis DuBois Sr.
DuBois was the original suspect in the case. His estranged common-law wife, Mena Shaw, accused him of killing the children after she discovered their bodies hidden beneath a blanket in the girl’s room.
Bagola’s confession was supported by physical evidence, notably the presence of his DNA underneath the girl’s fingernails and his palm print on a bloody computer in the bedroom where the bodies were found and where Bagola said he killed the children.
DuBois, guilt-ridden for having failed to protect the children, who died in the midst of three days beer-drinking binge, confessed to the killings days after the discovery of the bodies.
Members of the DuBois family said they were pleased with the guilty verdicts against Bagola.
“We know Travis didn’t do this to his kids,” his sister, Nancy Hennemann of Fargo, said after the verdict. “My brother Travis was never a violent man. He’s a quiet person.
“Thank God the truth came out and justice was heard,” she added. “It’s horrible because these children are gone, but they’re in heaven. They will be at some peace knowing the murderer got caught and didn’t get away with it.”
Bagola emerged as the eventual suspect after the DNA evidence pointed to his culpability.
DuBois never was charged for the murders, though he did serve a jail sentence on tribal court charges of public intoxication and reckless endangerment. He was taken into custody shortly after the bodies were discovered, with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.208 percent, well more than twice the threshold for drunken driving.
During Bagola’s 13-day trial, the defense argued that DuBois was, in fact, the killer. He confessed to the murders in a 7½-hour interrogation days after the discovery of the bodies, but said he felt pressured to make that statement.
In convicting Bagola of the murders, jurors rejected what prosecutors called a false confession by DuBois.
Under the Adam Walsh Act, Bagola faced a mandatory life sentence if convicted of any of the charges, said Tim Purdon, the U.S. attorney for North Dakota.
A death penalty was not possible in the case because it would require the approval of the tribe, and the Spirit Lake tribe has not approved the death penalty, Purdon said.
Purdon praised Myers and his fellow prosecutors, as well as FBI field agents and lab technicians, for securing the convictions.
“The verdict delivered today delivers some measure of justice for Destiny and Baby Travis,” Purdon said. “They’ve been the focus of our efforts since their bodies were found. I could not be prouder of the work done by the lawyers in my office and their colleagues in the FBI.”
Public Defender Neil Fulton said Bagola will be consulted about whether to file an appeal, but said an appeal is likely.
Bagola’s sentencing hearing has been set for Dec. 16.