Prosecution rests in Bagola murder trial, defense testimony beginsDNA from murder defendant Valentino “Tino” Bagola was found underneath the fingernails of one of two siblings he is accused of stabbing to death, an FBI forensic examiner testified Tuesday.
By: Patrick Springer, Forum News Service
FARGO – DNA from murder defendant Valentino “Tino” Bagola was found underneath the fingernails of one of two siblings he is accused of stabbing to death, an FBI forensic examiner testified Tuesday.
Bagola’s DNA was found underneath fingernails of both hands in samples taken from Destiny Shaw, a 9-year-old girl who was slain along with her 6-year-old brother, Travis DuBois Jr., in May 2011, said Chastity Davis, a DNA examiner at the FBI laboratory.
In Davis’ opinion, the DNA likely was left underneath the fingernails from scratching, but she could not rule out casual contact, which she viewed as not a likely means of transfer.
The DNA expert admitted, however, that she could not tell whether the scratch came from “rough house play” or during a struggle.
Davis also acknowledged that forensic science is unable to determine when Bagola’s DNA got underneath Destiny Shaw’s fingernails.
“There’s no way I can time how that DNA got under the fingernails,” she said.
Bagola’s DNA was not found on knives the prosecution has argued were used as the murder weapons.
“Mr. Bagola’s not on those items,” Davis said during cross-examination.
During cross-examination, Davis said the amount of Bagola’s DNA material found was tiny and probably was not visible to the naked eye.
The DNA was a mixture that also included the girl’s genetic material, she said.
Davis said she did not test the tops of the children’s fingernails for DNA. She said it would be possible for DNA to be transferred from the top to the underside.
Similarly, DNA material could have been transferred from objects. DNA could have come from skin cells shed from someone living in the home, she said.
Bagola, who is the nephew of the children’s mother, lived in the DuBois home for a time and sometimes babysat the children.
Davis was the last witness for the prosecution, which rested its main case against Bagola.
Defense testimony began with several witnesses whose accounts contradicted statements given by Travis DuBois Sr., the children’s father and the original suspected killer.
Gary Smith, who drove the school bus on the route serving the DuBois home in St. Michael on the Spirit Lake Indian Reservation, said Travis DuBois Sr. stepped outside the home and signaled the bus to keep going on the morning of May 20, a Friday.
“Travis came out and waved us off,” Smith said.
In earlier testimony, DuBois said he first became aware his children were missing later that day. He said he assumed his children were with their mother, who had moved out.
DuBois said he first learned the children were dead the next day, May 21, when their mother found their bodies in the girl’s bedroom.
In heated testimony, an aunt of the victims – and of Bagola – gave an account that was at odds with earlier testimony, which established that the two slain children were last seen the evening of May 18.
Investigators believe the children were killed late the night of May 18 or very early the morning of May 19, a time span that coincides with a confession Bagola gave in which he said he repeatedly stabbed both children.
Meda Cavanaugh said she last saw the two children the afternoon of May 19, when she was dropping off her children to play at her son’s house across from the DuBois home.
Both Destiny and Travis, Jr., were outside, and came up to greet Cavanaugh, she said. Destiny asked to stay at her aunt’s house that night, but Cavanaugh said she told her niece to wait until the weekend.
“Are you certain that the date we’re talking about was Thursday, May 19?” public defender Richard Henderson asked.
“I’m positive,” Cavanaugh said, adding that she returned to her son’s house later that evening, after 9:30 p.m.
On the second visit, she saw Travis DuBois Sr. chasing Travis Jr. and his younger brother, Stephon, who was 4.
On cross-examination, Cavanaugh stuck to her testimony.
Cavanaugh’s sister, Mena Shaw, accused DuBois of killing their children. Prosecutor Scott Schneider accused Cavanaugh of coming forward with the sightings of the children after Bagola, her nephew, was charged with the murders.
Cavanaugh denied that assertion, and also denied she was concerned that her son, Chris “CJ” Cavanaugh could have helped Bagola dispose of bloody clothes. Bagola told the FBI he was staying at CJ Cavanaugh’s home, across from the DuBois home.
In follow-up questioning, the defense pointed to a statement Cavanaugh gave days after the children were found dead, saying she had seen them Thursday.
Another witness, Misty Yali, the mother of children who were friends with the DuBois children, said she saw Travis DuBois Jr. and his father on Thursday, May 19. They came over to play.
Yali said she could remember the day because it was the day one of her daughter’s graduated from eighth grade, but conceded on cross-examination that she might have some days mixed up that week because so many activities were going on.