A Hibbing woman is asking a judge to dismiss her murder charges and suppress incriminating statements she allegedly made to investigators in the fatal shooting of an Aurora man along the Mesabi Trail in Hibbing last year.
Bailey Bodell French, 18, is the final remaining defendant in the January 2019 slaying of 33-year-old Joshua Robert Lavalley. She faces a mandatory life sentence if convicted on charges of premeditated first-degree murder and first-degree murder while committing kidnapping.
Authorities allege French was present when her boyfriend, Deshon Israel Bonnell, led Lavalley down the snowmobile trail and shot him twice in the face, reportedly in retaliation for the victim's behavior toward French. She allegedly confirmed those circumstances in statements given to investigators in the days after the crime.
A third defendant, Anthony Emerson Howson, testified that Bonnell carried a gun and talked of a plan to kill Lavalley as the four spent the day together Jan. 5. He said they eventually drove the victim's roommate's car to the Kerr area, on the western side of Hibbing, where Howson waited with the car while Bonnell and French placed a bandanna around Lavalley's face and led him down the trail.
A snowmobiler discovered Lavalley's body later in the day with two gunshot wounds to the face, according to court documents. He had no wallet or identification, so investigators had to use fingerprints to identify the body.
Howson, 21, was the first defendant to plead guilty, striking an agreement with prosecutors last February that spared him a potential indictment on first-degree murder charges. He also agreed to cooperate in the cases against Bonnell and French in exchange for a 25 ½-year sentence.
Bonnell, 19, was sentenced in October to life in prison with the possibility of parole only after 30 years after pleading guilty to a charge of first-degree murder while committing aggravated robbery.
At his plea hearing, Bonnell admitted to using a Ruger .22-caliber pistol to kill Lavalley but would not elaborate on his motive. He also confirmed that he had been helped by "at least one individual," but declined to name names.
French's attorney, Kimberly Corradi, filed the legal challenges last week.
In seeking to dismiss the indictment, Corradi contended that there were a number of procedural errors and flawed instructions given to the grand jurors who approved the first-degree murder charges last February. She said inadmissible evidence was introduced from several witnesses, including Howson, and that several jurors who disclosed personal or professional relationships with French's family and an investigator were allowed to remain on the panel.
"Due process requires that the grand jury be comprised of individuals whose state of mind will not prevent them from acting impartially," Corradi noted. "The lack of inquiry created a substantial risk that a member or members of the grand jury harbored prejudices that rendered them unfit to serve in this case."
The defense's second motion seeks to suppress three statements given by French on Jan. 7-8 to Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension senior special agents Chad Museus and Robert Fraik. The motion asserts that the statements were "involuntarily provided, induced by improper promises or other improper means and/or taken under circumstances in which a Miranda warning should have been provided."
Should the statements be suppressed, Corradi said she may further contest evidence obtained from six search warrants as "fruits of the poisonous tree" — a legal concept that renders evidence inadmissible when it is obtained as a result of illegal tactics.
Sixth Judicial District Judge Mark Starr is expected to hear testimony on the issues at a hearing Friday, after which attorneys will submit written arguments. With a ruling likely several months away, no trial date has been scheduled.