The man accused of killing his pregnant girlfriend and her toddler son on the Fond du Lac Reservation last year is seeking to have his charges dismissed.
Alternatively, a judge is being asked to consider moving Sheldon James Thompson's trial out of Carlton County due to extensive local publicity.
Thompson, 34, appeared in State District Court on Wednesday for the first time in three months. He remains in the Carlton County Jail on eight murder charges stemming from the March 2020 deaths of Jackie Defoe, 27, Kevin Shabaiash Jr., 20 months, and the couple's unborn child.
Defense attorney Steve Bergeson filed several motions ahead of the contested hearing.
The attorney took particular aim at two of the charges levied by a grand jury in October: two counts of first-degree murder while committing domestic abuse with a past pattern of domestic abuse, which carries life with the possibility of parole after 30 years.
Bergeson argued there is insufficient evidence to support the charges, that evidence presented to the grand jury did not show "circumstances manifesting an extreme indifference to human life," that jurors were improperly instructed on the elements of the charges and that the language of the statute is "unconstitutionally vague."
He also noted a general motion to dismiss the entirety of the eight-count complaint. The motion did not include detailed arguments, and Bergeson declined to elaborate in court Wednesday.
The change of venue motion, while citing "interests of justice" and "the potential for prejudice," also did not expound on the issues or suggest alternative locations where a jury could be impaneled.
Judge Jill Eichenwald ordered written briefs to be submitted on both issues by the defense and prosecution attorneys over the next two months.
A third defense motion asks the court to suppress "all statements, admissions and answers" given by Thompson to police officers at the time of his arrest, citing alleged constitutional violations.
That motion was also expected to be heard Wednesday, but a necessary police officer was undergoing surgery. Another hearing is expected to be scheduled this summer to receive testimony on the issue.
Authorities said the victims' bodies were discovered March 7, 2020, after a "concerned citizen" told police that Thompson made statements indicating he had killed Defoe and her child.
Officers found the victims' bodies in separate bedrooms at the residence, 1620 Locke Lane, Cloquet. They were concealed under blankets and clothing, and both doors had been screwed shut, according to court documents. Defoe, who was 13 weeks pregnant, had been stabbed several dozen times, while Kevin died from blunt-force injuries, an autopsy found.
Police said the investigation led to "a number of witnesses" who reported that Thompson had told them that he killed the mother and son. The killings are alleged to have occurred on or around March 5, 2020.
Prosecutors cited several past incidents in which Thompson had allegedly hit or threatened the victims, and Defoe's family and advocates have criticized the dismissal of past assault charges.
A previous defense attorney asserted that Thompson was innocent and requested that the original charges be dropped, saying the defendant had "no motive" to kill either victim and was "looking forward to having a child" with Defoe.
The attorney also indicated there was a lack of physical or forensic evidence tying Thompson to the crime, and said witness statements were unreliable.
The case has largely been on hold since the grand jury indictment was returned, necessitating a long process for defense attorneys to obtain and review a transcript of the secret proceedings. Under state law, first-degree murder charges can only be levied by a grand jury.
In addition to the charges involving a pattern of domestic abuse, Thompson is facing three counts of premeditated murder — each carrying life without the possibility of parole — and three counts of intentional second-degree murder.
A trial date has not been scheduled.