Deshon Israel Bonnell

HIBBING — The man indicted in the killing of Joshua Robert Lavalley earlier this year pleaded not guilty Thursday to a charge of premeditated first-degree murder in the January shooting death of 33-year-old Joshua Robert Lavalley.

A defense lawyer entered the plea for the man, Deshon Israel Bonnell, 18, who has not uttered a word in court since his arrest earlier this year. He entered the St. Louis County Courthouse in Hibbing handcuffed and wearing a blue shirt and pants from the jail where he has been remanded on no bail.

The newly retained lawyer, Jason Schellack, executive director of the Autism Advocacy Law Center in Minneapolis, said his client would not challenge probable cause but demanded a speedy trial.

Judge Mark M. Starr scheduled a pretrial hearing for July 11 and a jury trial to run Aug 19-23. Bonnell faces a life sentence if convicted of first-degree murder. He is also being charged with first-degree murder while committing kidnapping, intentional second-degree murder, kinapping and aggravated first-degree robbery.

The not guilty plea comes two months after a state evaluation found Bonnell to be mentally competent to continue with court proceedings.

Authorities have said Lavalley was driven against his will to the Mesabi Trail when Bonnell and his then 17-year-old girlfriend Bailey Bodell French, of Hibbing, blindfolded him and walked him into the woods. It was there that Bonnell allegedly opened fire and shot Lavalley twice in the face.

Lavalley’s dead body was found on Jan. 6 lying on his back with fresh and frozen blood on his face. Nearby lay a .22 caliber shell casing. The Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office determined he was shot twice in the face and ruled his death a homicide.

Bonnell was arrested in connection with the shooting three days later. Authorities said 20-year-old Anthony Emerson Howson, also of Hibbing, told law enforcement that he and Bonnell believed that Lavalley made unwanted sexual advances on the teenage girl and drove him to the trail. Howson claimed he stayed in the vehicle, as Bonnell and French forced Lavalley into the woods.

French told officers that Bonnell fatally shot Lavalley, prosecutors said. Bonnell’s mother said her .22 caliber pistol was missing from her home. Officers found the firearm at French’s residence under her mattress.

Bonnell and Howson made their initial court appearances later that month. Both were facing felony charges of second-degree murder and were locked up at the County Jail on $1 million bail each. French was charged with the same crime as a juvenile and held in custody at a state juvenile detention facility.

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

A grand jury went on to indict both Bonnell and French on first-degree murder charges. For French, the indictment meant that her juvenile case was transferred to adult court and she was transported to the County Jail, prosecutors say. If convicted, the teenagers each face life in prison without the possibility of parole.

French has not yet entered a plea. She is scheduled to appear in court July 9.


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