Forensic scientists, others take stand in fifth day of Fraga trial
WORTHINGTON — In nearly four hours of testimony Friday , Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension crime scene team leader Kristine Deters said she found multiple places where feces and bodily fluids were present in the Fraga home in the days following 2-year-old Samantha’s death.
It was the fifth day of the re-trial of Josue Fraga, who is charged with first-degree murder in the death of his niece, Samantha.
Throughout the day, a total of seven people testified, including social workers and forensics scientists.
Deters led the team that arrived after 8 p.m. on the day of Samantha’s death. They worked until 2 a.m. and again the following day from 9 a.m. until 11 p.m.
Team members began to photograph and video the scene upon arrival, Deters said. More than 100 photos and an edited version of the initial observations were shown in court.
When Deters examined the garbage — already bagged — in the can, no dirty diapers were found. Fraga had previously said a brownish stain on his pants came from the outside of a garbage bag he came in contact with while cleaning.
“None of them had feces on the outside of the trash bag,” Deters said. “There were no soiled or used diapers in any of the trashes.”
She did, however, find a diaper mixed within clothes in a laundry basket.
“It appeared to be in used condition,” Deters said. “It was heavy, like it was wet at one time.”
Throughout the trailer, Deters and her team marked spots that could be bodily fluid. At one point, she said they used almost all the swabs that were brought along — more than she had used at any previous crime scene, Deters said.
Located in the hallway was a Harry Potter-themed bed sheet. Deters said it had a strong smell of urine and stains that appeared to be feces.
“It physically made me ill, it was that strong smelling,” she said.
In the children’s bedroom, the only bed without a fitted sheet on it was where Samantha and her brother slept, according to the pictures shown in court. The green curtain that hung over the window by that bunkbed also smelled like urine, Deters said.
In the space between the children’s bed, a pillow and pillowcase tested positive for blood.
Next to the children’s bedroom was the bathroom, in which clothes that had been identified as Samantha’s were wet and stained with feces in the bathtub. Duct tape with tissue on it was taken from the garbage, and a stain of blood was on the floor. Two socks with fecal matter and bodily fluids were also seized from the master bedroom.
Donna Zittel and Kathryn Fuller, both forensic scientists from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, testified separately that no drugs or alcohol were present in Fraga’s system as results of the blood test.
Debra Clem, who was working for Nobles County Family Services in 2008, testified that by having Samantha and her brother live with them, the Fragas were receiving more than $1,500 per month for care. In total, the family had received between $15,000 and $16,000 in aid.
After the children’s mother died, they were in the custody of their dad, Samuel. However, Clem and an officer went to do a welfare check of the children.
“There had been reports of drug activity in the home and the children were not being taken care of properly,” Clem said. “The officer felt they were not safe in the house.”
The children were in foster care for seven days before their father asked they be placed in the custody of his brother, Josue.
In early 2008, Clem said, her office received a report from the Texas Department of Human Services that Samuel had reported sexual abuse by Josue when they were children.
Clem talked with Josue on Feb. 1, 2008, about the report. He denied the allegations, but said his father and another brother had both spent time in jail for incest. Josue said the family had done counseling. The children were allowed to remain in Josue’s home.
“There had never been any reports of abuse in the house,” Clem said, adding there wasn’t enough detail provided and no further investigation was done.
The affidavit from Samuel was dated Feb. 29, 2008 — a few weeks before Samantha’s death — and outlined specific details. That document was received in Nobles County April 3 and contained details the original report did not.
In answering questions from Nobles County Attorney Kathy Kusz, Clem said she would have handled the situation differently had she known the details earlier.
Worthington Police Department Sgt. Kevin Flynn started the day’s testimony. He interviewed the oldest son, Josue David, and the daughter on the day of Samantha’s death. In his talk with Josue David, Flynn said he told him his cousin died.
“He had tears rolling down his face,” Flynn said, adding the daughter had the same reaction.
Flynn also reported asking Josue David about his sleeping habits. The son reported he thought he would wake up if someone came into the bedroom of if a car honked somewhere outside.
Flynn and another officer knocked on doors throughout the neighborhood where the Fragas lived.
“Nobody saw or heard anything,” he said.
Social worker Barb Markus testified she was the person who sat with the Fraga children most of the day of Samantha’s death.
“I sat with them and kept them company,” she said.
She reported the kids were all very quiet. Samantha’s brother barely moved.
“He sat very still,” Markus said. “The only thing during that span of hours that he moved was his eyes. He ate the food and drank that we gave him and got up and went to the bathroom, but that was it.”
Markus reported the child was “very thin. His cheeks were sunken in and he had a grayish color to him.”
However, after two weeks of foster care, “he gained approximately five pounds, his color improved, his speech improved and he made significant gains in school.”
The trial resumes Monday.
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