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Fraga makes court appearance in preparation for coming trial

WORTHINGTON -- After spending more than one year in jail since his initial arrest, Josue Fraga made an appearance in Nobles County District Court Tuesday in preparation for his jury trial, which is scheduled to begin April 28 and continue for up to three weeks.

Fraga was arrested March 26, 2008, several days after his 2-year-old niece Samantha was brought into the hospital unresponsive. According to a report from the medical examiner's office, the child died of traumatic head injuries and had multiple contusions of the extremities and the trunk of the body, traumatic injury of the external sex organs and rectum, peritonitis and a ruptured stomach.

Originally charged with two counts of second-degree murder, a grand jury in May 2008 indicted Fraga on first-degree murder, which was added to the other two charges.

On Tuesday, public defender Cecil Naatz argued several motions, including a change of venue.

"We believe in the interest of justice it would be best to have the trial someplace (where the case) is not as well known," Naatz said, adding that he had attached newspaper articles to the motion.

Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Bill Klumpp told Judge Timothy Connell he would file a written response, but argued his case in court also.

"The news articles have contained factual statements from the criminal complaint or matters argued in court," Klumpp said. "The arrest was over a year ago, and the defendant was not born and raised in the area ... he is not as well known as someone who grew up here."

Klumpp said if it appeared from the results of the jury questionnaire that a fair and impartial jury could not be found in Nobles County, then the case could be moved to another venue.

Naatz also asked that the welfare files on the children in Fraga's household be reviewed to determine whether evidence of prior abuse was found when the Fragas took in his brother's two children.

Another motion argued was the admissibility of a statement made by one of Fraga's own children.

Both Naatz and Klumpp argued their points, which the judge will decide upon at a later date.

Klumpp mentioned that Fraga had pointed a finger of accusation at Samantha's 3-year-old brother, yet a statement by the medical examiner said a child of that size was not capable of causing the harm Samantha suffered. The medical examiner's statement effectively eliminates Fraga's defense, Klumpp said.

Naatz took offense to the comment, stating Fraga never tried to blame the 3-year-old, but had merely explained to authorities what he saw.

Connell will make decisions on each of the arguments presented Tuesday before the trial is set to begin.

Witness lists from both the prosecution and the defense have been filed, as have a list of questions for the jury questionnaire.