Day 1 of Fraga trial complete
WORTHINGTON -- As autopsy photos of his 2-year-old niece, Samantha, were being shown on a screen to his left, Josue Fraga looked away, occasionally wiping away tears.
It was the first day of the retrial in the murder of Samantha, a crime Fraga was convicted for in May 2009. However, with new evidence coming to light, a retrial was ordered.
It took nearly five days to select the jury this time -- five women and eight men (including one alternate) -- before opening statements began Monday morning. Fraga is facing five separate charges, including three first-degree murder charges and two second-degree charges.
On the morning of March 20, 2008, Samantha was taken into the emergency room at what was then known as Worthington Regional Hospital. At 6:18 a.m., the 2-year-old was pronounced dead.
Six days later, Fraga was arrested. On May 15, 2009, he was convicted and sentenced to life without parole.
New evidence, including a letter written by Fraga's daughter saying she saw parts of the alleged attack and an admittance of sexual touching by one of Fraga's sons, was enough to call for a new trial and to vacate his sentence.
On Monday that retrial began, as Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Bill Klumpp gave a one-hour, 20-minute opening statement.
"There were secrets in that home -- secrets that investigators didn't learn until months or years later," Klumpp said.
Those secrets, Klumpp said, included sexual advances by Fraga on one of his daughters. After reading an article in the paper, she sent a letter to a friend outlining how she was duct-taped to a chair and forced to watch a part of the alleged attack after she refused Fraga's sexual advances, Klumpp said.
"This is a situation that fortunately most us us have not seen in our childhood," Klumpp said.
For the defense, public defender Pamela King tried to put the blame on Fraga's son -- Josue David, who was 13 at the time -- in her 25-minute opening statement.
"He sexually assaulted and ultimately caused the death of his own cousin," King said.
King told the jury that after the initial trial, Josue David admitted to touching Samantha, but not penetrating her.
"Is that true?" King asked while talking to the jury. "That's what you, ladies and gentlemen, are going to have to decide. Is he hiding something else?"
Following a break, Dr. Victor Froloff, Assistant Medical Examiner at Ramsey County, took the stand as the state's first witness. He performed Samantha's autopsy.
"In my opinion, it was a homicide," said Froloff, who stated earlier he had done more than 2,500 autopsies in his career.
When asked about cause of death, Froloff answered, "In my opinion, the cause of death was traumatic head injury due to physical assault."
Going through 37 different photos, Froloff described some of the injuries he saw during the autopsy, which began at 9 a.m. the day after Samantha's death. Her stomach was distended, and she had contusions on her head and extremities. Samantha's genitals were swollen, and her rectum was prolapsed with injuries approximately two inches inside her body.
"There is no doubt in my mind she was sexually assaulted," Froloff said.
When Samantha was brought into the emergency room that morning, her core temperature was 84 degrees. According to Froloff, that, plus other factors, estimated her time of death four to eight hours before that was taken -- between approximately 8 p.m. and 1:30 a.m.
"I can't exactly pinpoint (the time)," Froloff said, adding that in his opinion, the time of death was likely around midnight.
As Klumpp continued through the pictures, other injuries were highlighted including bruising on her knees, injuries to her mouth and lips and contusions under her eye, which could have been caused by fingernails as if they were trying to keep her quiet, Froloff said. Samantha's stomach was also ruptured, Froloff said, causing food and acid to spill inside her small body.
The next witness was Wayne Landhuis, the EMT who was the first to meet the Fraga's in the emergency room.
According to Landhuis, Fraga told him, "My baby just stopped breathing."
After taking the child from her mother, Landhuis began giving CPR.
"At that time, there was no breathing," he said.
Dr. John Odom, who was the ER physician the morning of Samantha's death, was the final witness of the day.
"There were no obstructions in her airway," Odom said. "She wasn't breathing and she had a faint pulse -- if no pulse at all."
While working on Samantha, Odom said he noticed some physical injuries.
"She did have a number of physical findings that were concerning," he said, and later mentioned the distended stomach and a bruised, swollen forehead.
"It seemed like multiple points of trauma," Odom testified.
"At any time did you see signs of life in Samantha?" Klumpp asked.
"No," Odom said.
Before the jury was seated for the day, a motion was denied in which the defense questioned the jury pool, claiming there wasn't enough done to include the minority population. According to Court Administrator Steve Schultz, the list of potential jurors was equal to 93 percent of the census data for Nobles County.
"Nobles County exceeds the national benchmark," Schultz said, adding that that mark is 85 percent.
The trial continues today, with testimony expected from medical and law enforcement personnel.