FARGO, North Dakota — A federal appeals court has rejected the complaints of a man convicted of killing his niece and nephew in a case that brought attention to numerous reports of child abuse on the Spirit Lake Indian Reservation.
A jury in September 2013 convicted Valentino "Tino" Bagola on two counts of felony murder for the May 2011 slayings of 9-year-old Destiny Jane Shaw-DuBois and her 6-year-old brother, Travis Lee DuBois Jr. Bagola was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
Bagola's lawyers argued in the appeal that the jury instructions were unfair, there was insufficient evidence to convict him for one of the counts of felony murder, and the judge wrongly limited cross-examination of Travis DuBois Sr.
A three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals rebuffed all three of Bagola's challenges in a ruling issued Thursday.
"We obviously are very disappointed in the result," said Neil Fulton, head of the federal public defender's office in the Dakotas. "We are reviewing the opinion and discussing with Mr. Bagola what his next option may be."
Authorities have said Bagola stabbed the children to death after he sexually assaulted the girl. They also said Bagola did it because he was angry at their father but couldn't find him. Defense attorneys argued that the father of the victims, Travis DuBois Sr., was responsible.
Travis DuBois initially confessed to the crimes, but recanted later and said he felt pressured by interrogators to take responsibility despite his innocence. Investigators eventually focused on Bagola, who had previously babysat the children, and detected his DNA under the fingernails of one of the victims.
Bagola's earlier appeals to federal court were rejected. Fulton said Bagola might chose for a rehearing in front of the entire 8th Circuit or file a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court.
The case was one of two high-profile indictments in recent years involving the deaths of children on the reservation. Also in 2013, a Spirit Lake woman was sentenced to 30 years in prison for throwing a child down an embankment.