Prosecution rests in Fraga trial
WORTHINGTON -- After six full days and the testimony of almost 40 witnesses, the prosecution rested its case in the trial of Josue Fraga, who is accused of murdering his 2-year-old niece Samantha in March 2008 while sexually assaulting her.
There is a chance, Judge Timothy Connell informed the jury, that the case may go to deliberation sometime today.
According to defense attorney Cecil Naatz, Fraga did not plan to testify as of Wednesday afternoon, but a final decision will be made today.
Testimony began Wednesday morning with several social workers from Nobles County Family Services (NCFS) taking the stand.
NCFS social worker Blaine Radtke told the jury he was at the Fraga home to transport some of the children to the law enforcement center (LEC) the day Samantha was brought to the hospital by her aunt and uncle. He said the children didn't ask any questions -- that it was a "quiet ride."
NCFS social worker Barbara Markus stayed with the children all day at the LEC and told the jury the children were quiet most of the day, although the daughter did cry and ask questions at one point.
Markus described Samantha's 3-year-old brother as physically thin, with sunken cheeks and a grayish cast to his skin. She found it unusual, she said, that a 3-year-old child would sit so quietly all day long.
"He didn't move anything but his eyes," she stated, adding that he did eat and drink throughout the day.
The other children, she said, basically ignored the boy.
Two weeks after being taken into protective custody, the changes in the boy were noticeable, Markus explained.
"He gained five pounds in the first two weeks," she said. "His color was better, he was at a normal height and weight."
His speech also improved dramatically, she added, as did his motor skills.
NCFS Supervisor Deb Clem testified that the Fraga family first came to the attention of NCFS when Samantha's father, Samuel Fraga, was in jail and her mother was ill, undergoing dialysis several times a week and needing help caring for the children.
Clem told the jury that in the 10 months Josue and his wife had custody of Samuel's two children, they received a total of $11,915 in government assistance for their care. Some of the funds were SSI funds for Samantha's care, while some came from relative custody assistance. She said Josue had reported to NCFS that both children seemed to have developmental delays, were fearful when their names were called and didn't seem to know right from wrong.
A report from family services in Texas, where Josue was raised, indicated there had been incest in the family, something for which Josue's father and older brother had served jail time. The report stated Josue and his two sisters were not involved in the incest.
A report from Samuel that Josue had sexually molested him as a teenager was also received, but NCFS decided not to investigate, Clem said, as they didn't have enough information to go ahead at the time. Later, Samuel provided a written affidavit with more detailed information.
Worthington Det. Sgt. Kevin Flynn later testified that when he spoke to Samuel several days after Samantha's death, Samuel never spoke about his accusations against Josue.
Flynn said he was the one who told the two oldest Fraga children, during separate interviews, that Samantha was dead. Both were upset and cried, he said.
The prosecution's final witness was Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) Special Agent Derek Woodford, who investigates violent crimes.
The jury watched a videotaped interview between Woodford and Josue that occurred the morning of Samantha's death. In the video, Josue said he put Samantha to bed March 19 wearing a diaper and pink pants, but he didn't look at her bottom because he put the diaper on while she was standing up, just sliding her pants down a bit, then pulling them up over the diaper.
The child, who was being toilet trained, got up in the middle of the night, and Josue gave her three glasses of water, he said.
He was "stunned and shocked" when he got up around 5 a.m. to go to the bathroom and saw the 3-year-old jump on Samantha, who was lying on the bedroom floor.
When he picked her up, she "felt really loose," he said, and was cold, which he attributed to just crawling out from a warm bed, while she had been on the floor.
"She had her eyes open when I carried her," he said in the interview. "I assumed she was just hurt and her eyes were open."
When Woodford showed Josue the photos of Samantha's face, taken at the hospital after she was declared dead, he said she hadn't looked like that when they brought her into the emergency room.
When showed the photos of Samantha's bruised and torn bottom, Josue said, "That's bad."
After being asked several times what had happened to the little girl, and answering several times that he did not know, he told the agent he felt like he was being accused of something.
"Someone in your house did this to her," Woodford stated.
"I would like to disagree with that," Josue replied.
Woodford asked Josue if he had physically or sexually abused Samantha, and Josue said he did not, yet he could not explain what had caused the girl's injuries.
"I don't think they were there to begin with," Josue stated.
"You're making me feel like I need a lawyer," he added. "I'm thinking back to the part where everything you say can and will be held against you."
In further testimony, Woodford said he was not told Samantha's body temperature was 84 degrees upon admittance to the hospital until March 24 -- four days after she was declared dead.
He said he conducted an interview with Josue's wife, Marisela, several weeks after the child's death and showed her the same photos he had showed Josue.
"What was her reaction?" asked Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Bill Klumpp.
"There was little to no reaction," Woodford stated, adding that the interview took place in English.
"And how was her comprehension?" Klumpp asked.
"It seemed fine," Woodford added.
At that point, the judge reminded the jury that the decision to use an interpreter during Marisela's testimony was a choice he made.
Defense testimony on behalf of Josue Fraga will begin this morning.