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Evidentiary hearing regarding Fraga case includes testimony of teenage daughter

WORTHINGTON -- Back in 2009, shortly after being convicted of first-degree murder, Josue Fraga claimed to be innocent in the death of his 2-year-old niece Samantha, despite all the circumstantial evidence that pointed toward him.

"I love every single one of my kids, and I love my brother's kids like my own," he said through tears after the jury delivered its verdict. "In my heart and in my conscience, I'm innocent. I know I am."

On Thursday, testimony from a daughter who was 12 years old at the time of Samantha's death indicates she may have witnessed her father assaulting the little girl.

When 2-year-old Samantha died on March 20, 2008, she was living with her brother, four cousins and aunt and uncle in a two-bedroom mobile home in Sungold Heights Park. Even though she slept in a room with five other children, no one saw what happened to her -- no one who would admit it during Fraga's trial, anyway.

Samantha's cause of death was determined by an autopsy to be the result of a traumatic head injury, multiple contusions, traumatic injury of the external sexual organs and rectum, peritonitis and rupture of the stomach.

In January, an evidentiary hearing was called when it was discovered the oldest son -- 13 at the time of Samantha's death -- had fondled the child several times. During his therapy sessions, the son had admitted touching the little girl, but denied ever penetrating her.

In February, a letter Fraga's daughter had sent to a friend was turned over to staff at the St. Cloud Children's Home, where the teenaged girl had lived for several weeks. In the letter, she expressed concern her father may get out of prison and was trying to place the blame for Samantha's death on her brother, which she wrote was untrue.

The teen alleges she had been sexually abused by her father for as long as she could remember.

"Had you had sex with your father before that night?" Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Bill Klumpp asked.

"Yes, since I was a little girl," she replied.

On the night Samantha died, the teen said her father had "tried to do things to her" again, and she refused. She testified that he hit her, then went into the children's bedroom and got Samantha. He duct taped his daughter to a chair, while Samantha was on the floor.

"Then he started drowning her," she testified, "what he usually did."

She described how her father put Samantha's head in the toilet and flushed it. The little girl was screaming, she said. Then Fraga put the child in the bathtub, turned on the cold water and put her face in it.

"After that I closed my eyes," she admitted. "I couldn't handle watching him."

Later, he let his daughter go free and sent her to her room, where she could still hear the little girl struggling in the water, she said. She doesn't know what happened after that.

Fraga's defense attorneys requested a motion for a new trial after learning of the son's false testimony about whether he had ever touched the little girl improperly.

The court, they said, has to determine if the jury might have reached a different conclusion had the son not lied.

Attorney Suzanna Senecal-Hill said the daughter's new information is not relevant and asked she not be allowed to testify, but Judge Timothy Connell said it was important to get everything on the record and then make a determination about a new trial.

Klumpp called 11 witnesses up on the stand: investigators who had questioned the teenage girl, forensic scientists and the son's original defense attorney, Cecil Naatz. Klumpp asked Naatz if he would have brought in a doctor to testify that Samantha had been penetrated before the date of her death, but Naatz said he could not answer because he didn't know what all the new evidence was and if the teenage girl's claims had been substantiated.

"We have a young girl, and apparently she's a liar," Naatz said. "Either during her testimony at the trial or now."

Co-defense attorney Pamela King also referred to the girl several times as a liar, mentioning struggles over the truth with staff in St. Cloud. The teenager indicated she had been lying for most of her life, having been told by her father to not tell anyone what he was doing to her or he would hurt her and her mother.

"I was afraid of telling the truth. I didn't feel safe," she said. "My whole life I've been told, 'Be careful what you say.'"

She was also used to lying to staff at school, assuring them things were fine at home, she said.

During the girl's testimony, Fraga alternately stared off into space, at the table in front of him or watched his daughter. Several times he wiped tears from his face as she struggled to speak against her own tears.

Asked when she had become aware that her father was trying to blame Samantha's death on her brother, the girl said she didn't know exactly, but that it made her very angry.

"In my opinion, my dad is a very bad person," she said emphatically.

Forensic scientists from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension testified duct tape retrieved from the bathroom trash can during the crime scene collection contained hair that showed a partial match of DNA belonging to Samantha.

A decision on whether or not the case will go back to trial is months off. Both the prosecution and the defense will have until the end of January to submit briefs on the day's testimony and their legal arguments, then another 10 days to respond to each other's documents.

Connell stated he will be unavailable during the month of March, so an order on the motion will likely not be seen until early spring.