'I hope this leads to closure': Man charged with murder of two Spirit Lake children
After an agonizing 14 months of waiting and wondering, the people of the Spirit Lake Nation learned Monday that federal authorities had arrested a St. Michael man over the weekend and charged him with the brutal killings of two children.
Valentino "Tino" James Bagola, 19, faces four counts of first-degree murder in connection with the deaths of 9-year-old Destiny Jane Shaw DuBois and her 6-year-old brother, Travis Lee DuBois Jr.
The children's deaths and circumstances surrounding the crimes have been cited by a number of local, state and federal sources recently as evidence of failings in the child protection system at Spirit Lake.
U.S. Attorney Timothy Purdon announced the arrest and charges in a written statement Monday following Bagola's initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Grand Forks.
Bagola pleaded not guilty, according to the court clerk's minutes. He asked for a court-appointed attorney, and the court appointed Chris Lancaster of Grand Forks.
Bagola faces up to life imprisonment if convicted. His next scheduled court appearance will be a detention hearing Monday, also in U.S. District Court in Grand Forks. Detention hearing is the term used in federal court for a bond hearing.
Trial was tentatively set for Sept. 24 before District Judge Ralph Erickson in Grand Forks.
The children's mother found their lifeless bodies on May 21, 2011, under a mattress in the St. Michael home where she had lived with their father. Authorities said the children appeared to have been dead several days, slain by a knife or other cutting weapon.
The federal grand jury indictment alleges that Bagola killed the two children on or between May 18 and May 21, 2011, by striking and stabbing them numerous times.
He faces four separate charges, for the killing of the two children, the killing of Destiny "while perpetrating or attempting to perpetrate the crimes of aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse and child abuse," and the killing of Travis Jr. "while perpetrating or attempting to perpetrate the crime of child abuse."
Purdon would not comment on the charges or other aspects of the case beyond issuing the news release, in which he declared that the indictment unsealed Monday resulted from "months of careful police work by the FBI and the BIA," the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.
"This investigation included the thorough examination of a great deal of forensic evidence and law enforcement interviews of many, many individuals," he said in the release.
Arrest brings relief
The case has torn at the Dakota Sioux community, and one Spirit Lake woman who has been outspoken about the passage of time without an arrest welcomed Monday's news.
"It's going to make this community appreciate the fact they didn't give up on this," Cheryl Good Iron said of the authorities. "Everyone was saying, 'Why haven't they done anything?' It took so long. It just rankled everybody and wore on their nerves.
"We will hold our breath now knowing it has to go through proper procedures."
Good Iron, who lives in the primary reservation town of Fort Totten, spoke to Forum Communications two weeks ago about the fear and frustration gripping many on the reservation.
She said then that she had advised her grandchildren to be careful where they played because of the unsolved murders. On Monday, she said a conviction would "clear up a lot of mystery" and allow people to get on with their lives.
"It's sad, what happened to those children," she said. "It got a lot of fear into the children in the community. Now, knowing that someone has been charged, it's going to take a whole lot off the shoulders."
Betty Jo Krenz, who was an on-call child case worker for tribal social services the day the two children's bodies were discovered, also said she was glad to hear of progress in the case. She was asked to tend to surviving siblings, including a 3-year-old boy who was found in the house, his clothing bloodied. Like Good Iron, she has questioned why the investigation had seemed to drag on.
"I'm thrilled, I'm glad there's been an arrest. I hope this leads to closure for the family, but I personally still have a lot of questions."
She said she is "as shocked as the rest of the folks (at or connected with Spirit Lake) by the arrest of this young man we've never heard of."
Tribal Chairman Roger Yankton and all members of the Spirit Lake Tribal Council were out of town Monday and unavailable for comment, a spokeswoman said.
Tribal officials have said they are working with county, state and federal officials to upgrade their social service and child protection programs.
Concerns about time
While he would not comment in an interview Monday on the impact an arrest in the high-profile case could have on the reservation, Purdon appeared to address concerns about the length of the investigation in his statement:
"The resources and effort brought to bear on this investigation by the federal law enforcement agents and the assistant United States attorneys who are involved should leave no doubt as to the Department of Justice's commitment to ensuring justice for child victims in Indian country."
Three assistant U.S. attorneys, Scott Schneider, Janice Morley and Chris Myers, will prosecute the case, according to the statement.
The same day the children's bodies were found, authorities arrested their father, Travis DuBois. He pleaded guilty to tribal charges of public intoxication and reckless endangerment, according to a tribal prosecutor. He remains in jail in Devils Lake.
Purdon had declined to say whether DuBois was a suspect, or whether investigators had identified any suspects in the case. He previously told Forum Communications that he understood the frustration at Spirit Lake and the need for information, but could say little about an ongoing investigation.
On Monday, he declined to say whether his office has other suspects or plans additional charges in the DuBois children's deaths.
North Dakota court records show Bagola was arrested Friday in Grand Forks County, the day after a judge issued a warrant for his arrest for jumping bail on a misdemeanor theft charge dated Aug. 18, 2011.
Bagola pleaded guilty to the theft charge Friday and was sentenced to one year of probation and 30 days in jail, with 26 days suspended and credit for four days served. He was sentenced to six days in jail on the bail-jumping charge, with credit for five days served.
The news release from Purdon's office didn't say when or where federal authorities arrested Bagola, but he apparently was taken into federal custody at the Grand Forks jail Friday or over the weekend.
Bagola also pleaded guilty July 10 in Devils Lake Municipal Court to misdemeanor charges of shoplifting, minor in consumption of alcohol and minor in a liquor establishment, according to the state court records. The offense date was July 29, 2011. He received a 30-day jail sentence, with 20 days suspended and credit for 10 days served, and was ordered to pay $1,125 in fines and fees.
Chuck Haga writes for the Grand Forks Herald and Patrick Springer write for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead
Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki contributed to this report.
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