Jury deliberating in Josue Fraga trial

The Josue Fraga Trial

The Josue Fraga trial continues. Follow the entire trial:

Background | Sept. 25 | Sept. 24 | Sept. 23 | Sept. 20 | Sept. 19 | Sept. 18 | Sept. 17 | Sept. 16 (PM) | Sept. 16 (AM) | Sept. 13

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WORTHINGTON – A jury late Wednesday night came out of five and a half hours of deliberation to declare Josue Fraga guilty on all five charges against him in the murder of his 2-year-old niece Samantha. The verdict was delivered at approximately 8:16 p.m. and Fraga was sentenced by Judge David Christensen to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Fraga faced counts of first-degree murder while committing criminal sexual conduct with force, first-degree murder while committing child abuse, first-degree murder while committing domestic abuse, second-degree murder while committing criminal sexual conduct and second-degree murder while committing a first-degree assault.

Following their guilty verdict, the jury headed back to the jury room for approximately five minutes to return with the affirmation of eight aggravating factors, including the vulnerable age of the age of the child, violations of a victim by a person in a position of authority over her, multiple forms of penetration and failure to seek prompt medical attention.

As the verdict was read, Fraga showed little reaction, hanging his head and staring at nothing, occasionally gulping as he fought tears. Several of the jurors also looked to be near tears, others watched Fraga’s reaction to their verdict. Many looked anywhere but at Fraga.

Fraga was convicted of the first-degree murder of Samantha in 2009, a conviction later vacated due to new evidence coming to light. Unlike after the sentence in which Fraga used an opportunity to speak to declare his innocence, he answered with a quiet “No” when asked if he wanted to speak on his own behalf Wednesday night.

When asked if he had comment before the sentencing, Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Bill Klumpp, who prosecuted Fraga both times at the request of the Nobles County Attorney’s Office, said that circumstances in the state of Minnesota called for life without parole, but had comments to make for the record in case the law for first-degree murder ever changed.

“This was a horrific act against a 2-year-old child – the victim was, in fact, tortured by the defendant…” Klumpp said. “He turned Lot 25 (at Sungold Heights Trailer Park) from what should have been warm and welcoming to a house of horrors.”

Public Defense Attorney Cecil Naatz said only that he was disappointed in the verdict, and he intends to file for an acquittal.

After the verdict was read and jurors dismissed following a grueling week and a half of testimony and statements, Worthington Det. Sgt. Kevin Flynn had little to say other than a small statement.

“Nobody wins,” he said, shaking his head. “Nobody walks out of this a winner, and nothing that went on will bring her back.”

Nobles County Attorney Kathy Kusz said the prosecution was pleased with the verdict.

“We feel that justice was served,” she added.

Naatz plans to file a motion of acquittal, and will also discuss an appeal with his client.

Fraga opted not to testify on his own behalf during the trial, leaving his entire defense to last approximately 6 minutes after more than 40 witnesses and six days of testimony for the prosecution.

During closing statements, the state and defense took turns telling their sides of a story full of assault, degradation and lies, based on testimony, fact and truths.

Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Bill Klumpp said on the night of Samantha’s murder, Fraga sneaked into his children’s bedroom, like he had so many times before, and pulled his own 11-year-old daughter from her bed for sexual purposes. When she refused his advances, Fraga allegedly dragged her into the bathroom, duct-taped her to a chair and tortured her young cousin in front of her, inflicting head trauma, rupturing her stomach and molesting her.

After sending his own daughter back to bed, Klumpp said, Josue Fraga molested the toddler, putting his hand over her mouth to silence her cries of pain.

In defense attorney Cecil Naatz’s version, Fraga’s 13-year-old son Josue David did the sneaking, assaulting and molesting.

“She started out life with problems,” Naatz said, reminding the jury that Samantha had been born premature with disabilities, had lost her mother to death at a tender age and been removed from her father’s custody after he took up with a woman with drug issues. “After being put in the custody of her aunt and uncle, she began to be abused sexually, not by Josue Fraga, but by her 13-year-old cousin, Josue David.”

The jury listened to three hours of closing arguments, encouraged by both sides to believe their facts, not those of the opposing side. In the end, the five women and seven men of the jury did the same as they jury in 2009, declaring Josue Fraga guilty of all charges in the death of 2-year-old Samantha.


Wednesday, Sept. 25

WORTHINGTON – The jury went into deliberation at 2:31 p.m. today in the Josue Fraga trial after seven days of testimony, statements and evidence. Fraga is on trial for the murder of his 2-year-old niece Samantha, who died in 2008 after being assaulted and sexually molested.

Fraga faces counts of first-degree murder while committing criminal sexual conduct with force, first-degree murder while committing child abuse, first-degree murder while committing domestic abuse, second-degree murder while committing criminal sexual conduct and second-degree murder while committing a first-degree assault.

During closing statements, the state and defense took turns telling their sides of a story full of assault, degradation and fear, based on testimony, fact and truths.

Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Bill Klumpp said on the night of Samantha’s murder, Fraga sneaked into his children’s bedroom, like he had so many times before, and pulled his own 11-year-old daughter from her bed for sexual purposes. When she refused his advances, Fraga allegedly dragged her into the bathroom, duct-taped her to a chair and tortured her young cousin in front of her, inflicting head trauma, rupturing her stomach and molesting her.

In defense attorney Cecil Naatz’s version, Fraga’s 13-year-old son Josue David did the sneaking, assaulting and molesting.

The jury listened to three hours of closing arguments, encouraged by both sides to believe their facts, not those of the opposing side.

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Tuesday, Sept. 24

Afternoon update:

WORTHINGTON – It took less than 10 minutes for the defense team in the Josue Fraga trial to state their case, which is about 20 minutes less than the argument they posed back in 2009. The state rested their case today after calling 42 witnesses to the stand since last Monday.

Closing statements will begin tomorrow morning, and the case should be handed over to the jury for deliberation by mid-day.

Fraga, accused of killing his 2-year-old niece Samantha in 2008, opted not to testify on his own behalf, leaving his entire defense to rest on the recall testimony of Worthington Police Detective Dave Hoffman. The detective was called back to the stand to read a brief part of a transcription made in 2011, when he travelled to St. Cloud to interview Fraga’s daughter.

When the 17-year-old girl was on the stand earlier in the trial, she said she could not recall how her father taped her to a chair in March 2008 before torturing Samantha in front of her. In listening to Hoffman’s reading of the transcript, the jury learned the teen had stated Fraga taped her around the arms, across her biceps. She told the detective the tape stuck to her skin a little bit.

Fraga’s retrial began September 16 after a week of jury selection. This is his second time standing trial for Samantha’s murder – the first conviction was vacated after new evidence was discovered. Part of that discovery included a letter his daughter wrote to a friend claiming her father had been molesting her since she was a young child. She also claims her father taped her to a chair and attacked Samantha in retaliation after she refused her father’s advances for the first time on March 19, 2008.

Fraga and his wife brought the toddler into the emergency room at approximately 5:30 a.m. on March 20. Samantha had severe head trauma, a ruptured stomach and obvious signs of molestation, including a prolapsed rectum.

During the first trial, Fraga’s defense team insinuated Fraga’s 13-year-old son Josue David could have been responsible for the girl’s injuries, but this time the defense went past insinuation and straight to allegation, stating authorities didn’t explore Josue David’s possible involvement with the murder.

Keep an eye on kwoa.com and follow me on Twitter @RWnewschick for updates.

 

WORTHINGTON – Samuel Fraga did not look at his brother Josue Fraga as he entered the courtroom and seated himself at the witness stand this morning in Nobles County District Court.

Samuel, the father of Samantha, didn’t even glance in his Josue’s direction until Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Bill Klumpp asked him to identify his brother.

Josue Fraga is on trial for the 2008 molestation and murder of then 2-year-old Samantha, who was under his care at the time of her death.

Samuel told the jury he got involved with a woman who did drugs after his wife died, and the children, Samantha and her 3-year-old brother AJ, were taken away. He wrote a letter asking that custody be given to his brother Josue and Josue’s wife Marisela.

It wasn’t until he asked his brother to send his children to him in Texas and Josue refused that he went to social services in Texas and accused Josue of molesting him as a child. According to Samuel’s testimony, Josue sexually abused him several times when he was about 10 years old, five year younger than Josue.

“He told me not to say anything,” Samuel said. “He told me to be quiet.”

When Klumpp asked if Samuel had told anyone about the abuse, he said he told his mother.

“She told me to stop saying that,” he stated.

Why, if he knew about Josue’s willingness to molest a child, would he leave his own children with his brother, Samuel was asked .

“He was older, and had grown up,” Samuel replied. “He had a family of his own, and I could see changes in him. I saw how he took care of his kids.”

During cross-examination, defense attorney Cecil Naatz asked Samuel if he had reported his brother because he was mad for not returning the children.

“Did you get mad at him?” Naatz asked. “Is that why you made allegations about him molesting you.”

“I kind of did,” Samuel admitted. “But he did sexually molest me."

He also told the jury both his father and his oldest brother had served jail time for incest. His father had sexually abused one of his sisters, he said, and his brother had molested a niece.

Samuel was informed about Samantha’s death by a nephew six days after the little girl died.

The jury also heard from Senior Special Agent Derek Woodford, who was the case supervisor for the BCA in Samantha’s death, and from retired Nobles County Deputy Brian McCarthy, who arrested Josue Fraga in Adrian when the arrest warrant was first issued.

Both Klumpp and Naatz told Judge David Christensen this morning they expect to wrap up testimony today, which means the jury will likely hear closing statements Wednesday before the case is given to them for deliberation. Fraga faces five murder charges – two first-degree and three second-degree.


Monday, Sept. 23

WORTHINGTON – Testimony proceeded slowly today during the Josue Fraga trial in Nobles County District Court, to the point that Judge David Christensen reminded the attorneys to keep things moving along.

Fraga is facing first-degree murder in the death of his niece, 2-year-old Samantha. The toddler died in March of 2008 from head trauma, and also had a ruptured stomach and a prolapsed rectum from molestation. Fraga was convicted of her murder in 2009, but that conviction was later vacated when new evidence was discovered.

Before the jury was brought in this morning, Christensen denied a request from the defense to keep Samantha’s father Samuel off the stand. Samuel will be testifying tomorrow and will likely tell the jury of his accusation of sexual abuse by his brother during their teen years, something the defense would prefer the jury not hear.

Christensen told the jury this today would be the last full day of testimony from the state, but questions from both the state and defense of BCA experts went on much longer than had been anticipated. Several forensic scientists from the BCA spoke of their roles in the laboratory processing of evidence from the crime scene, explaining how bedding, clothing and other items were tested for available DNA.

Forensic scientist Alyssa Bance said she was able to extract DNA from four of the 15 hairs forwarded to her lab. BCA trace examiner Josh Jorstad had testified earlier that the 110 hairs he was able to collect from duct tape found in the bathroom garbage receptacle was narrowed down to 15 that might contain DNA. All of them, he said, were forcibly removed from someone’s head, which he could tell because of the growing stage the hair was in.

Bance testified that she was still only able to get partial profiles on most of the hairs, from which Samantha could not be excluded. The others in the household were excluded because of the characteristics of their DNA profiles. On the duct tape itself, Samantha’s DNA was found and the others were excluded, with the exception of Marisela Fraga on one swabbing.

BCA crime scene coordinator Lindsey Garfield started the morning’s testimony by describing her efforts in processing the crime scene. When asked by the defense why they hadn’t taken the roll of duct tape found in the bathroom as evidence, Garfield said it may have been slightly out of place in a bathroom, but seemed to be an artifact of the home and the significance of the tape was not known at the time.

Garfield also reiterated comments made by BCA crime scene member Kristine Deters, who testified that there was no feces on or in garbage bags found in the home. That piece of information discounts information from Fraga, who said the reason he had fecal stains on his pants was because he had been cleaning earlier and got the stain from the outside of a garbage bag.

Testimony from Vance will continue tomorrow as the defense cross-examines. Left to take the stand in the prosecution’s case are Fraga’s brother Samuel, retired Adrian police sergeant Brian McCarthy, and BCA Special Agent Derek Woodford.

If the state gets through that short list, the defense will then have the opportunity to bring forth their witnesses. In 2009, the defense had only a half hour of testimony, but it is unknown how many witnesses they will call this time around. Fraga did not testify on his own behalf in 2009, and no comment has been made about him doing so this time. Allowing a half day for closing arguments, the case could still go to the jury for deliberation as early as Wednesday.


Friday, Sept. 20

WORTHINGTON – Less than two weeks after Samantha Fraga died in 2008, Nobles County Family Services received an affidavit from Texas detailing accusations made against Josue Fraga by his brother Samuel – Samantha’s father.

The jury for the first-degree murder trial of Fraga heard testimony Friday from a former Nobles County Family Services supervisor, Deb Clem, who stated Samuel had accused Fraga of molesting him as a teenager. The affidavit was dated Feb. 29, 2008, weeks before Samantha was murdered.

According to Clem, Samuel had reported the allegations to the Texas Department of Health in late January, when she received a phone call from them. She contacted Fraga, who came to her office the following day and denied the accusations, stating two family members – his father and another brother – had done jail time for incest, but the family had received counseling and he had not been involved. Clem said no other investigation was undertaken at the time.

“If you had received the affidavit with the more detailed information sooner, might that have changed your reaction?” Nobles County Attorney Kathy Kusz asked.

“Yes, definitely,” Clem responded.

Clem said she had first become aware of Samantha in 2007, when the Social Security Administration notified her office the child’s mother was dying and someone would need to become the representative payee for Samantha’s social security benefits. Because the little girl was born premature, required laser surgery on her eyes, had decreased hearing in one ear and developmental delays, Samantha’s mother received more than $600 a month from Social Security for her care. Samuel was not eligible as a payee because he was a felon and could be returning to jail.

Fraga was designated as the payee after Rosario, Samantha’s mother, died. When Samantha and her brother were removed from Samuel’s custody, they were living in Fraga’s house within about a week, at Samuel’s request. Between Social Security, relative care assistance and welfare, the Fraga’s were taking in more than $1,500 a month for caring for the two children.

Why Samuel would choose his brother as a guardian for his children, then accuse him of molestation within the next months has not yet been relayed to the jury. Samuel is expected to testify Monday.

The jury also heard from Worthington Police Det. Sgt. Kevin Flynn on Friday, listening as he detailed the evidence chain of custody process. He also testified he was the one who informed Fraga’s children and nephew that Samantha had died. The older two both cried, he said, with tears rolling down their cheeks.

He and another officer were responsible for a neighborhood canvas, Flynn said, knocking on doors to inquire if anyone had knowledge of what had happened the night before, when Samantha died.

“Nobody saw or heard a thing,” he told the jury.

More than 30 people testified in the first week of the trial, with at least nine more people scheduled to take the stand before the state rests its case. That should come early next week, then the defense will get a chance to present their witnesses to the jury. After final summations, the case will go to the jury for deliberations and a verdict for each of the five charges Fraga faces.


Thursday, Sept. 19

WORTHINGTON – It was an emotional day in Nobles County District Court Thursday at the retrial of Josue Fraga, as the jury heard testimony from Fraga’s two oldest children. His 17-year-old daughter, who has alleged that Fraga has raped her repeatedly since she was a young child, testified that her father taped her to a chair and watched him hold Samantha’s head under water. Fraga’s 19-year-old son Josue David, asked how he felt about his father accusing him of hurting and killing Samantha, answered, “I hate it, to put it lightly. That he’d try to pin it on me… it absolutely infuriates me.”

Fraga is accused of killing his 2-year-old niece Samantha in 2008 in Worthington. He is charged with first-degree murder during a criminal sexual crime using force. He was convicted Samantha’s murder in 2009, but that conviction was vacated when evidence was discovered.

Josue David, who was 13 at the time of the murder, admitted later he had touched the toddler sexually 20 to 30 times in the months she and her brother lived with the Fraga family. He told the jury Thursday he had never penetrated the child, and also admitted he had touched Samantha’s brother. He went into treatment and successfully completed the program, he said.

Josue David also admitted he had lied on the stand in 2009, believing he would get in trouble.

As his younger brother testified Wednesday, Josue David said their father would sometimes spank them with a belt as a punishment, but had never seen or witnessed Fraga putting Samantha’s head in the toilet.

On the night Samantha died, Josue David said he got up once to use the bathroom that night and saw his father in the kitchen cleaning a counter.

"Did you do anything to cause Samantha's death?" Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Bill Klumpp asked.

"No, I did not," Josue David answered without hesitation.

As his son testified, Fraga watched him intently, smiling as he listened to Josue David talk about going to college and getting a promotion at his part-time job. At times, there were tears in his eyes. Earlier in the day, Fraga’s daughter had spent about two hours on the stand, at one point breaking down in tears until Judge David Christensen recessed court for a few minutes so she could compose herself. During that time, Fraga also broke down and cried.

The teenage girl had been trying to answer Klumpp’s questions about her father’s alleged raping of her since she was in first or second grade. As the questions got more intimate, the girl searched for the right words, finally stating, “I’m sorry, I’m just so uncomfortable talking about this.”

She said the night Samantha died, Fraga had gotten her out of bed and brought her into his bedroom, where “he tried to do things to me like he usually did.”

For the first time, just days from her 12th birthday, the girl refused. She said he got mad and grabbed her by the wrist, dragging her into the room where all six children slept in bunk beds. He pulled Samantha from her bed and brought them both to the bathroom, she said, where he allegedly taped her to a chair. The girl told the jury her father pushed Samantha’s head into the toilet and flushed it, something she had seen him do before. He then held the toddler’s face under running water in the bathtub, she said, while the little girl screamed.

“He told me it my fault, because I wouldn’t let him do things to me,” the teen sobbed. “It was horrible.”

She had identified a chair from a photo shown to her by a detective as the chair her father had used, but couldn’t explain how the chair and tape got into the bathroom while he was dragging her and grabbing a toddler. Later, she said, her father let her go and she went back to her room and fell asleep. The girl told the jury the last thing she remembers is that Samantha was still in the tub.

As she spoke, the majority of jury members watched her intensely, some fighting tears or placing hands over their mouths in horror. A few stared at the ceiling or a wall, as if hoping to give the daughter privacy.

While placed in a group therapy home in St. Cloud, the teenager said she made friends with another girl who had experienced being raped, and after seeing an article about her father trying to blame her brother for Samantha’s death, she wrote a letter to her friend, stating she had been raped and her cousin killed.

During cross examination by defense attorney Cecil Naatz, the teen stated she couldn’t remember details, and when asked why her father would do this, she answered quickly.

“Because he enjoys putting people in pain,” she stated angrily. “He would always hurt me, hurt her.”

She admitted she could not remember what she had told a detective who had driven to St. Cloud to talk to her after the letter was discovered. When Naatz asked if he could approach the witness with a transcript to refresh her memory, the courtroom suddenly became quite active. Klumpp objected, the judge sent the jury from the room and admonished Naatz as the attorneys began to argue rules of impeachment of a witness.

“You’re playing with fire when you’re examining this witness,” the judge said, adding that she was coming across to the jury as credible. “If you try to belittle her a little bit, that is your prerogative. But this court has an obligation to protect her.”

The jury also heard from the doctor who examined the children at Child’s Voice after Samantha’s death. He said he didn’t find any significant physical issues. The forensic interviewer found it a red flag that the oldest daughter didn’t mention her father in a list of family members, and had termed her relationship with her mother more like that of sisters. The interviewer termed at least of two of the children as “guarded” and quiet.

Worthington Det. Sgt. Kevin Flynn is scheduled to take the stand tomorrow, as are representatives from Nobles County Family Services and Southwest Health and Human Services.

Note: In an effort to protect their identities of the children under the age of 18, their first names will not be used.)

 


Wednesday, Sept. 18

WORTHINGTON – Josue Fraga’s ex-wife and two youngest sons were three of the 10 people who took the stand Wednesday during his trial at Nobles County District Court – a busy day that also included testimony from law enforcement, JBS workers and the therapist of Fraga’s only daughter.

Fraga is on trial for the murder of his 2-year-old niece Samantha’s death in March 2008 for the second time. His first conviction was vacated when new evidence involving his oldest son came to light. Since then, new evidence was also introduced when his daughter alleged he had been raping her since she was a small child and saw him attack her cousin.

Marisela Fraga, who was married to Fraga at the time of Samantha’s death, was hesitant to speak at times and gave short answers through an interpreter during the court session. She couldn’t remember when she and Fraga had married or divorced, but teared up when a picture of Samantha was shown to the jury. She offered very little insight as to what happened the night Samantha died, stating Fraga only told her he had seen Samantha’s 3-year-old brother jump on her.

Marisela did say Fraga would hit her at times, about once a month, and once grabbed her by the neck and threw her on the floor. He accused her of having sex with others, she said. She admitted she was afraid of him, but never saw him hurt any of the children.

Fraga told her not to talk to people, and as a result, she did not have any friends, she said. As she spoke, she glanced several times at her ex-husband, then quickly looked away. Since he has been gone, she has begun talking to people and making friends, she said.

She described a life that included doing all of the cooking, cleaning and child-rearing while she was home from work, stating Fraga worked some as an interpreter, but not full-time. Marisela said she never saw her husband change a diaper or take care of the children when she was home to do it.

When asked to describe her oldest son Josue David, she said he was calm and takes time doing things, but is a good student. Her daughter, she said with a smile, is a little bit lazy. Marisela became emotional when she talked about her children being taken away after Samantha’s death. There was a time she feared she would not get them back. When she did, Josue David was not home long. He spent almost three years living in a group home, and their daughter left for a time when she lived in a St. Cloud home.

Marisela seemed confused when defense attorney Cecil Naatz asked her about her knowledge of the sexual contact allegations against Josue David. Under cross-examination, she told Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Bill Klumpp her definition of sexual contact meant having sex.

During her testimony, Fraga wiped away tears when photos of his children were shown, but got more emotional when his youngest son appeared on the stand. Watching the 11-year-old testify, Fraga in turn looked sad, frustrated and distraught, at times removing his glasses and wiping his face.

The child said he did remember living at the trailer house at one time, and when asked about his cousins, spoke hesitantly.

“I remember Samantha,” he stated.

The child could not remember his father’s first name and admitted he had not seen him for a long time. He barely glanced in Fraga’s direction. During the 2009 trial, the same child did not recognize his father when asked if he saw him in the courtroom.

Fraga’s middle son, who is now 15 years old, said he remembers a time when his cousins lived with their family. When asked what his parents’ names are, the teen hesitated, then answered, “Marisela Fraga.” He had to be prompted to speak his father’s name.

The 15-year-old spoke very hesitantly through the bulk of his testimony, a times staring at the floor or ceiling to steady himself before answering questions. When asked, he said his father would punish him at times by making him kneel facing a wall or hitting him with a belt. Once, he said, his father put his hands around his neck and squeezed, but the teen could not remember why.

The teen admitted he thought his older brother Josue David was his father’s favorite child, but gave no reason other than, “he was the oldest.” He said he never saw Fraga use the belt on Josue David, but did see him use it on his sister.

The 15-year-old said he never saw Josue David hurt anyone else, although he did yell sometimes.

Once piece of evidence the boy offered is that the night Samantha was killed, he got up to get a drink of water around 4:18 a.m. and saw his parents were up and his mother washing laundry. When asked about washing laundry that night, Marisela said she had not done so.

The jury also heard from Amber Morrighan, who was the daughter’s therapist while she was in St. Cloud during an evaluation and clinical supervision. Morrighan was the one who reported child abuse to Nobles County Family Services after staff received a letter the daughter had written to a friend stating her father raped her repeatedly as a child.

Several JBS Swift employees testified Marisela had been at work on the night in question and would not have been able to leave for any length of time without their knowledge.

Thursday’s testimony is scheduled to begin with Fraga’s daughter and oldest son Josue David, both of whom will allegedly offer information not given during the 2009 trial.

(Note: In an effort to protect their identities of the children under the age of 18, their first names will not be used.) 


Tuesday, Sept 17

WORTHINGTON – In a letter to a friend in 2011, Josue Fraga’s only daughter stated her father had raped her more than 100 times before she turned 12 years old. She said he threatened to hurt her mother or brothers if she told anyone. Then her two young cousins came to live with them, she stated, and her father did something worse when she refused his advances.

“Dad killed Samantha,” she wrote. “It’s my fault. If I had only let him rape me that night.”

According to the letter, Fraga duct-taped his daughter to a chair and killed Samantha in front of her.

“He told me to keep quiet or he’d hurt my mom and brothers next,” she wrote.

Worthington Police Detective Dave Hoffman read the letter aloud to the jury during day two of testimony in the retrial of Fraga, who is charged with the first-degree murder of his niece. He was convicted of the murder in 2009, but that conviction was later vacated when new evidence was discovered.

Fraga’s oldest son, Josue David, allegedly admitted during therapy he had fondled Samantha several times. During the first trial, when specifically asked if he had ever touched her sexually, he testified he had not. Fraga’s defense team at the time was insinuating Josue David could have been the one to molest and kill Samantha.

In the daughter’s letter to her friend, she wrote she had read her father was trying to blame her brother. She expressed concern that if her father got out of prison, he might come looking for her.

Hoffman testified for a majority of the afternoon, revisiting his part in the investigation that led to Fraga’s arrest and first conviction. The jury watched a recording of the first interview Hoffman conducted with Fraga after Samantha’s death was deemed suspicious at the emergency room and law enforcement was informed. Fraga and his wife Marisela had been placed in separate rooms at the law enforcement center after their arrival.

Sister Karen Thies had testified Tuesday morning that while interpreting for the couple at the hospital, Fraga did all the talking, while Marisela said very little, even after being informed of the little girl’s death.

The jury also heard testimony from medical staff from the emergency room, including Dr. Lisa Gerdes, who was the pediatrician on call when the couple brought their niece to the ER. Gerdes described the toddler’s injuries, explaining if she had been conscious with a ruptured stomach, the child would have been screaming in pain.

“I believe she was brought to the ER dead,” Gerdes stated.

Her understanding from speaking to the couple that morning was that they were claiming Fraga had caught Samantha’s 3-year-old brother jumping on her stomach.

Gerdes and two registered nurses who were present in the ER stated it was unlikely any life saving measures had caused the child’s stomach to distend or her rectum to prolapse.

Testimony was also heard from Worthington Police Sgt. Tim Gaul, who stated he and a family services agent had gone to the Fraga household to collect the other five children who lived in the home when Fraga and Marisela were taken to the law enforcement center. Gaul said when he arrived at the door, 13-year-old Josue David had let him in the house. Two younger boys were already dressed for school, and the youngest child, Samantha’s brother, was still sleeping.

Josue David had to be prompted several times to get his items together, Gaul said, and at one point asked if he could use the bathroom before they left. Gaul said he could hear noise down the hallway that sounded as if the teen was vomiting. Before they left, Josue David allegedly asked Gaul if he would have his father present if anyone questioned him. On the ride to the Prairie Justice Center, the teen asked if it was something good or bad that had happened.

Of the boy’s demeanor, Gaul said Josue David seemed to be the child in charge.

“He was the only one who seemed to have an appropriate response to police showing up at the house,” Gaul reported, admitting under questioning Josue David seemed anxious, pacing and stiff. “(The daughter) was mother-like, helpful and calm.”

Testimony continues Wednesday with cross-examination of Hoffman, more medical personnel and possibly some of the Fraga children taking the stand.

(Note: In an effort to protect their identities of the children under the age of 18, their first names will not be used.)


Monday, Sept. 16 (PM Update)

WORTHINGTON – Five women and eight men make up the jury that will ultimately decide the fate of Josue Fraga, who is charged with first-degree murder in the death of his 2-year-old niece Samantha.

Testimony began today after more than four days of jury selection. This is Fraga’s second appearance on the charge of murder, the first having been vacated after new evidence was discovered. During the first trial, Fraga was convicted of all charges and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

The first morning of the trial was taken up with opening statements from the state and the defense. After a mid-day break, testimony began with Dr. Victor Froloff, the assistant medical examiner at Ramsey County who performed an autopsy on the child after she was pronounced dead. It was Froloff’s job to determine a manner and cause of death, which he named a homicide due to a traumatic head injury.

The jury had their first taste of how gruesome this case is when they viewed 37 photos taken during the autopsy by Froloff. During the showing of the photos, Fraga turned away, removed his glasses and refused to look at the pictures of the child.

While he couldn’t say what caused the head injuries to Samantha, Froloff did say he found the injuries to her head and the abrasions on her face suspicious, attributing the scratches under her eye and around her lips to pressure being applied, as if someone had tried to stop her from crying out.

Her stomach was ruptured, Froloff said, which likely was caused by pressure being applied, as if she was put on her stomach across something hard and compressed. Her stomach was full at the time of the rupture, he said, causing its contents to flow into her body cavity.

The little girl’s rectum was prolapsed and there were tears and abrasions up to approximately two inches inside her body. Froloff said in his opinion, the injuries were caused by penetration. Her exterior sexual organs were swollen and abraded also, he testified.

Froloff said he could not pinpoint a time of death exactly, but estimated the injury that caused her death occurred between 8 p.m. and 2 a.m. Fraga and his wife Marisela brought Samantha into the ER shortly after 5:30 a.m.

Testimony from Wayne Landhuis, an EMT who performed CPR on Samantha after she was brought to the hospital, confirmed that time. According to Landhuis, Marisela was carrying the child, which he thought was an infant when Fraga announced his baby had just stopped breathing. Landhuis testified he had a hard time getting the child from Marisela, who did not appear to want to let go. She did not speak, however; Landhuis said it was Fraga who did all of the talking.

He identified exhibits regarding the shirt and blankets Samantha had been in when she was brought to the ER. DR. John Odom testified later the girl’s body core temperature was low when she arrived. According to a statement from Minnesota Assistant Attorney Bill Klumpp, Samantha’s temperature was only 84 degrees when it was recorded shortly after she arrived.

Both Landhuis and Odom said they were proficient in CPR, which could not be the cause of the distended stomach Samantha had when she arrived. Landhuis said the bruises on her forehead did get darker as they performed life-saving techniques, likely because of blood flow from the chest compressions.

Opening statements began Monday morning with Klumpp, who also prosecuted the case in 2009. He told the jury Fraga murdered his niece while his daughter was forced to watch, having been duct-taped to a chair after she refused his sexual advances. There were secrets in the home, Klumpp stated, that weren’t revealed until months or years after the murder took place.

He said the defense would try to blame Fraga’s son, who was 13 years old at the time of Samantha’s death. With the defense’s opening statement, public defender Pamela King proved Klumpp correct in that regard. “Josue David Fraga sexually molested and ultimately caused the death of his cousin Samantha,” King told the jury.

The defense contends the images of the small child’s death were so powerful that even law enforcement professionals assumed it could only have been caused by an adult – not a man in a 13-year-old body, King said.

Tomorrow’s court room proceedings are scheduled to contain testimony from other medical personnel from the hospital in Worthington and some law enforcement who were first on the scene.


Monday, Sept. 16 (AM Update)

WORTHINGTON – Opening statements have been delivered in the retrial of Josue Fraga, who is accused of murdering his 2-year-old niece Samantha in 2008 in Worthington.

Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Bill Klumpp, who also prosecuted the case in 2009, told the jury Fraga murdered his niece while his daughter was forced to watch, having been duct-taped to a chair after she refused his sexual advances. There were secrets in the home, Klumpp stated, that weren’t revealed until months or years after the murder took place.

He said the defense would try to blame Fraga’s son, who was 13 years old at the time of Samantha’s death. With the defense’s opening statement, public defender Pamela King proved Klumpp correct in that regard. “Josue David Fraga sexually molested and ultimately caused the death of his cousin Samantha,” King told the jury.

The defense contends the images of the small child’s death were so powerful that even law enforcement professionals assumed it could only have been caused by an adult – not a 13-year-old boy. Not a man in a 13-year-old body, King said.

King said law enforcement took the teen at his word when he claimed he didn’t know what happened. She pointed out that Josue David lied about touching his cousin sexually, admitting later after getting in trouble after the first trial that he had touched her.

“What else is he hiding?” she asked.

King contends that years later, after reading an article about new evidence in the case, Josue David’s sister, who was 11 at the time Samantha died, realized their father was trying to blame her brother and told a story to a friend about being molested by her father from a young age and witnessing Fraga’s assault on Samantha.

According to Klumpp, both Josue David and his sister will testify in the trial.

“The state will prove,” Klumpp said, “that the defendant, sitting right here, is guilty of first-degree murder during a criminal sexual crime using force.”

Fraga is facing five charges this time around – three first-degree and two second-degree murder charges. In 2009, he faced three charges and was convicted by a jury on all of them. He served three years in prison before being brought back to Nobles County Jail to await the second trial. The first sentence, life in prison without parole, was vacated by Judge Timothy Connell after an evidentiary hearing was granted to discuss the new evidence.

Before statements were given and the jury brought in, Fraga’s defense team asked about a motion they had filed, stating that the jury pool did not include enough minorities. Court Administrator Steve Schultz testified that the Nobles County jury source in 93 percent inclusive compared to the 2010 U.S. Census, which is above the state average.

That motion was denied by Senior Judge David Christensen, who is presiding over this trial.


 

Friday, Sept. 13

It took four and a half days, but a jury has been selected for the trial of Josue Fraga, 40, who is accused of murdering his 2-year-old niece Samantha in March of 2008 in Worthington. Opening statements are set to begin Monday.

This will be Fraga’s second time facing murder charges in Samantha’s death – the case originally went to trial in May of 2009, just 14 months after the little girl was brought into the emergency room by her aunt and uncle. She was cold and unresponsive, slightly damp and lifeless. An autopsy would later show her approximate time of death was around midnight.

The only adult in the home at the time of death, Fraga was convicted of her murder. His wife had been at work until around 3 a.m. There were five children besides Samantha in the trailer house at Sungold Heights – Samantha’s 3-year-old brother and four of Fraga’s children, ranging in ages of 13 to four.

During autopsy, it was found that Samantha had contusions, a ruptured stomach, significant cranial damage and extreme trauma to her genitals and anus.

The first jury deliberated less than five hours before delivering a guilty verdict to first-degree murder. Fraga was sentenced to life in prison without parole. He spent three years in prison before being moved back to the Nobles County Jail. New evidence had been offered by the defense, stating his eldest son had lied on the stand about whether or not he had ever touched his young cousin sexually. The boy, who was 13 years old at the time of Samantha’s death, admitted during a therapy session that he may have fondled the little girl while changing a diaper.

That evidence was enough for Judge Timothy Connell to grant a motion for an evidentiary hearing. During that hearing, evidence was offered by the prosecution, led by Assistant Attorney General Bill Klumpp, that another one of Fraga’s children had also lied on the stand. Fraga’s oldest daughter stated her father had been molesting her since she was about 6 years old and had pulled her out of bed the night Samantha died. She said that after refusing his advances that night, Fraga had duct-taped her to a chair and forced her to watch as he tormented the 2-year-old.

Klumpp will once again serve as the lead prosecuting attorney in the case, with the assistance of Nobles County Attorney Kathy Kusz. At the time of the murder and first trial, Kusz was an assistant attorney in Nobles County.

Senior Judge David Christensen will preside over this second trial, with public defenders Cecil Naatz and Pamela King continuing their defense of Fraga.

The trial is scheduled on the court calendar for the next two weeks. A witness list filed by the prosecution contains the names of 72 potential witnesses, including law enforcement officers, medical personnel, forensic experts, Fraga’s children and ex-wife, and his brothers, one of whom is the father of Samantha. Approximately 50 witnesses testified in the first trial. Josue Fraga did not take the stand in his own defense the first time around.

For this second trial, two requests for a change of venue were made, both of which were denied.


Background

WORTHINGTON – Jury selection begins Monday, September 9th in Nobles County District Court for the retrial of Josue Fraga, age 40, who is accused of murdering his 2-year-old niece Samantha in 2008 in Worthington. Convicted of murder in May of 2009 and sentenced to life in prison without parole, Fraga petitioned the court for post-conviction relief after new evidence was discovered regarding his eldest son.

During the initial trial, Fraga’s defense team tried to create reasonable doubt in their client by insinuating Fraga’s 13-year-old son could be responsible for the child’s injuries. During testimony, the teen denied ever touching the child sexually. Later, the teen admitted he had fondled her several times, but denied ever penetrating her.

Fraga’s defense attorneys requested an evidentiary hearing to have the verdict thrown out. During the hearing, prosecuting attorney Bill Klumpp of the Minnesota Attorney General's Office stated there was a witness to Samantha's assault – one of Fraga’s daughters.

In the early morning hours on a cold day in March of 2008, 2-year-old Samantha was brought to the emergency room by her aunt and uncle. Her hair was slightly damp, her body was limp, and her core temperature indicated she had been dead for several hours. An autopsy would later show the toddler had traumatic head injuries, a ruptured stomach, severe contusions all over her body and had been penetrated vaginally and anally. Her external sex organs were traumatized, she suffered peritonitis and had extensive hemorrhaging in her head.

Fraga has denied hurting the child from the time of his arrest, stating at his sentencing he loved his brother's kids like they were his own. During the first trial, his attorneys made subtle allegations toward the 13-year-old boy several times, but one state witness, a physician, said the penis of a young teen would not have been capable of creating the extensive damage found on Samantha's body at the time of her death.

After the son admitted later during therapy he had touched his cousin, more evidence was recovered through a letter Fraga’s daughter wrote to a friend. In November of 2011, the girl, who was 12 years old at the time of her young cousin’s death, testified during an evidentiary hearing that her father had been molesting her since she was a child. On the night of Samantha’s death, the girl said she refused her father’s attentions, so he took Samantha out of her bed, duct-taped his daughter to a chair and began to drown the younger child by putting her head in the toilet and flushing it. At one point during his torture of his niece, Fraga allegedly untapped his own daughter and sent her back to a room shared by six children.

During the first trial in 2009, the girl didn’t say a word about witnessing her cousin’s death, but the prosecution mentioned more than once duct tape was found in bathroom of the house.

Fraga’s second trial is on the court schedule for three weeks and will be presided over by Senior Judge David Christensen. More than 70 people are listed as potential witnesses, though it is possible not all will be called to the stand. Approximately 38 witnesses took the stand for the prosecution in 2009, two of whom were recalled for the defense. Fraga did not testify in his own behalf.

Klumpp will once again prosecute the case, with the help of the Nobles County Attorney Kathy Kusz and her staff. Public defender Cecil Naatz is listed as lead attorney for Fraga.

In his first go-round in court, Fraga was charged with one count of first-degree and two counts of second-degree murder. This time he faces one count of first-degree and four counts of second-degree murder.

Finding a jury could be a time consuming process. More than four days of individual interview were required in 2009 before a jury of 12 and two alternates were chosen. That jury, after six days of testimony and legal arguments and less than 5 hours of deliberation, convicted Fraga on all counts. He served three years in prison before being moved back to the Nobles County Jail a year ago to await his new trial.