Murder suspect Bonnell’s jury trial is postponed

HIBBING — A jury trial for a suspect in the death of Joshua Robert Lavalley, a 33-year-old Aurora man who was gunned down on the Mesabi Trail in Hibbing, is being postponed for more than a month as attorneys continue to review evidence.

The suspect, Deshon Israel Bonnell, 18, had been tentatively set to go on trial on a pair of first-degree murder charges next week. But Sixth Judicial District Judge Mark M. Starr said on Thursday afternoon that he anticipated that the trial would run from Oct. 21-25.

Earlier this year, medical staff from the state of Minnesota evaluated Bonnell and found him mentally competent to continue with court proceedings. Two months ago, Bonnell, a resident of Chisholm, and his retained defense attorney, Jason Schellack, executive director of the Autism Advocacy Law Center in Minneapolis, entered a not guilty plea into the court and demanded a speedy trial. But Bonnell has since waived that right. He faces life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted of either of the murder indictments.

According to district court records, Bonnell and his then 17-year-old girlfriend Bailey Bodell French, of Hibbing, drove Lavalley against his will to the trail in January, blindfolded him and walked him into the woods. It was there that Bonnell allegedly opened fire and shot Lavalley twice in the face.

Several days later, on Jan. 6, law enforcement found Lavalley’s dead body lying on his back with fresh and frozen blood. Nearby lay a .22 caliber shell casing. The Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office ruled his death a homicide. Bonnell was arrested three days later in connection with the shooting.

Authorities say that Anthony Emerson Howson, a Hibbing resident who recently turned 21 years old, told them that he and Bonnell believed that Lavalley was making unwanted sexual advances on the teenage girl. Howson claimed he stayed in the vehicle when Bonnell and French walked Lavalley into the woods.

Authorities say that French told them that Bonnell fatally shot Lavalley. Bonnell’s mother would report her .22 caliber pistol was missing from her home and officers found the firearm at French’s residence under her mattress.

Later that month, Bonnell and Howson made their initial court appearances on an array of charges including second-degree murder and were locked up at the St. Louis County Jail on $1 million bail each. French was charged with the same crime but as a juvenile and held in custody at a state juvenile detention facility.

A month later, Howson entered into a plea agreement with Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Bonnie Thayer, who is prosecuting all three cases. In so doing, he dodged a grand jury indictment and plead guilty to a felony charge of aiding and abetting intentional second-degree murder in exchange for testifying against Bonnell and French, prosecutors say. Howson is expected to face 25.5 years in prison.

A grand jury went on to indict both Bonnell and French on two counts each of first-degree murder charges. For French, the indictment meant that her juvenile case was transferred to adult court and she was transported to the St. Louis County Jail. She has since plead not guilty to the charges. She is scheduled to appear for an omnibus hearing in court Sept. 12, roughly one month before she turns 18 years old. She faces life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted of either indictment.

Bonnell and French remain in the St. Louis County Jail, while Howson has been placed with the Minnesota Department of Corrections. Prosecutors say his next hearing will be scheduled in the upcoming months following the cases of his two co-defendants.

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