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Snowmobile trail murder accomplice sentenced to 25 years in prison

Deshon Israel Bonnell1 / 3
Anthony Emerson Howson2 / 3
Bailey Bodell French3 / 3

HIBBING, Minn. — An accomplice to the murder of an Aurora man along a northern Minnesota snowmobile trail was sentenced Thursday to 25½ years in prison.

Anthony Emerson Howson, 21, pleaded guilty in February to intentional second-degree murder for his role in the January shooting death of 33-year-old Joshua Robert Lavalley. Howson received the guideline sentence from 6th Judicial District Judge Mark Starr at a hearing in State District Court in Hibbing.

Howson testified at his plea hearing that co-defendant Deshon Israel Bonnell carried a gun and talked of a plan to kill Lavalley in retaliation for his behavior toward Bonnell's girlfriend, Bailey Bodell French. Howson said the four of them spent the day together Jan. 5.

Howson testified that he eventually drove the victim's roommate's car to the Kerr area, on the west side of Hibbing, early on Jan. 6. He said he waited with the car while Bonnell and French placed a bandanna around Lavalley's face and led him down the Mesabi Trail.

A snowmobiler discovered Lavalley's body along the trail later in the day, according to court documents. He had no wallet or identification, so investigators had to use fingerprints to identify the body. In the subsequent investigation, Howson and French both allegedly confirmed the circumstances of Lavalley's death. French, according to court documents, also told police that Bonnell fired the two shots.

Howson was the first defendant to plead guilty, striking an agreement with prosecutors 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 the guideline sentence.

Howson later sent two handwritten letters to the court, expressing a desire to pull out of the agreement. He discharged the public defender's office in September, but Starr re-appointed attorney Todd Deal and scheduled the case for sentencing after Howson failed to retain a new lawyer or file a formal motion to withdraw his plea.

Howson, the second defendant to be sentenced in the case, will need to serve at least two-thirds of the term — 17 years — in prison before he is eligible for supervised release.

Bonnell, 19, was sentenced last month to life in prison with the possibility of parole only after 30 years. He pleaded 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, the final defendant, also was in court Thursday. She requested a contested omnibus hearing, which Starr scheduled for Dec. 27. The 18-year-old is facing charges of premeditated first-degree murder and first-degree murder while committing kidnapping, which carry mandatory life terms.

Lavalley's family learned of his death on what would have been his 34th birthday, they told the court at Bonnell's sentencing. He left behind a 5-year-old son.

"My brother did not deserve what happened to him," younger sister Joann Vergoth said. "No one deserves the evil things that they did to Josh."