DULUTH -- It has been one year since Jackie Defoe and Kevin Shabaiash Jr. were killed inside their home on the Fond du Lac Reservation in Cloquet.

While the crime has sparked numerous protests and demands for justice, it doesn't appear that a criminal case will be resolved any time soon.

The accused killer, Sheldon James Thompson, could spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted of premeditated murder. But there was little progress to report as the 34-year-old appeared in State District Court for a status conference Thursday, March 4.

Thompson was indicted by a grand jury in October on five counts of first-degree murder and three counts of second-degree murder in the killing of his pregnant girlfriend and her 20-month-old son.

Under Minnesota law, only a grand jury can levy first-degree murder charges. Because the panel meets in secret, it often takes several months for defense attorneys to receive transcripts and file any legal challenges.

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Additionally, Thompson is getting up to speed with a new attorney, Steve Bergeson, of the State Public Defender Trial Team, which specializes in high-profile and complex criminal cases. His previous attorney, Kassius Benson, was recently named chief public defender in Hennepin County.

Tammy Suomi of Duluth holds a sign with photos of her daughter, Jackie Defoe, and grandson, Kevin Shabaiash Jr., during a silent protest organized by the group "Justice for Jackie" outside the Carlton County Courthouse in January 2021. (Clint Austin / File / News Tribune)
Tammy Suomi of Duluth holds a sign with photos of her daughter, Jackie Defoe, and grandson, Kevin Shabaiash Jr., during a silent protest organized by the group "Justice for Jackie" outside the Carlton County Courthouse in January 2021. (Clint Austin / File / News Tribune)

Judge Jill Eichenwald scheduled a contested hearing for June 9, at which point the court could hear testimony and arguments on issues stemming from the handling of the investigation or the grand jury procedure.

Bergeson did not specify any issues he anticipates challenging.

The indictment includes three counts of premeditated murder, which carries mandatory life in prison without parole, and two counts of murder while committing domestic abuse with a past pattern of domestic abuse, which carries life with the possibility of parole after 30 years.

PREVIOUSLY: Grand jury indicts Cloquet man in slaying of pregnant woman, toddler

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, on the Fond du Lac Reservation. 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.

Benson, while representing Thompson, asserted that his client was innocent and requested that the original charges be dropped. He said Thompson had "no motive" to kill either victim and was "looking forward to having a child" with Defoe.

He also indicated there was a lack of physical or forensic evidence tying the defendant to the crime, and said witness statements were unreliable.