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Trial to begin in Fond du Lac Reservation killings

Sheldon Thompson faces life in prison if convicted of the deaths of Jackie Defoe, Kevin Shabaiash Jr. and an unborn child.

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Sheldon James Thompson
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DULUTH — A three-week trial is slated to get underway Monday for the Cloquet man accused of killing his pregnant girlfriend and her toddler son at their home on the Fond du Lac Reservation in March 2020.

Sheldon James Thompson, 35, faces mandatory life imprisonment without the possibility of parole if convicted of the top charges stemming from the deaths of Jackie Ann Defoe, 27, and Kevin Lee Shabaiash Jr., 20 months.

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.

File: Jackie Defoe
Victoria Smith holds a picture of homicide victims Jackie Defoe and her son, Kevin Shabaiash Jr., at a memorial march on the Fond du Lac Reservation on March 9, 2020.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune

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.

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Thompson is charged with three counts of premeditated first-degree murder, two counts of first-degree murder while committing domestic abuse with a past pattern of domestic abuse and three counts of intentional second-degree murder.

It remains to be seen how his attorneys will argue the case. They have not provided notice of any particular defenses — such as an alternative perpetrator, alibi, self-defense or intoxication — and Judge Jill Eichenwald in recent days granted a prosecution motion to prohibit Thompson's lawyers from making any late bid to argue anything other than a general "not guilty" defense.

Eichenwald at a virtual hearing Friday denied a defense request for a brief delay in the trial on the basis of late discovery turned over by the state. Prosecutors recently provided more than 1,000 pages to the defense, but told the court that nearly all of it consisted of cellphone evidence that had previously been disclosed in another format.

Authorities will attempt to prove that Michael Carbo Jr. raped and killed Nancy Daugherty after she caught him peeping outside her house, but a judge must decide whether to allow other evidence of his alleged "voyeuristic proclivity of sexual motivations."

Dozens of potential jurors were summoned to the Carlton County Courthouse on Wednesday to be sworn in and fill out questionnaires in advance of trial. They will be brought in on an individual basis for questioning starting Monday — a process likely to take several days in order to seat 12 jurors and two alternates.

Eichenwald noted there will be a number of security measures in place, citing the high level of publicity and emotionally charged response from the community in wake of the killings.

The judge said court staff even summoned the fire marshal to assess the courtroom, finding that up to 49 members of the public may be able to view the proceedings from the gallery. An overflow courtroom was considered, but deemed unfeasible due to security staffing requirements.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Minnesota Attorney General Erin Eldridge, Carlton County Attorney Lauri Ketola and Chief Deputy County Attorney Jeff Boucher. Thompson is represented by assistant state public defenders Steve Bergeson and Jesse Dong.

Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or tolsen@duluthnews.com.
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