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New evidence in old murder trial

WORTHINGTON -- There was an eyewitness who saw Josue Fraga murder his 2-year-old niece Samantha in March 2008, according to Minnesota Assistant Attorney General William Klumpp.

During a motion hearing Tuesday, Klumpp said the state uncovered new evidence when Fraga's daughter admitted earlier this year she was present when her father killed her cousin.

In May 2009, after seven days of trial and five hours of jury deliberation, Fraga was convicted of the first-degree murder of Samantha and sentenced to life in prison.

The 2-year-old lived with Fraga and his wife at the time of her death, which was ruled a homicide.

The cause of death was determined to be the result of a traumatic head injury, multiple contusions, injury of the external sexual organs and rectum, peritonitis and rupture of the stomach.

Fraga and his wife brought the little girl to emergency room on the morning of March 20, 2008, and told medical staff they had heard fighting in the children's room and found one of the other children jumping on Samantha. The Fragas said that when they discovered Samantha was unresponsive, they sought medical care.

Core body temperature and an autopsy later pointed to a time of death close to midnight, hours before Fraga's wife came home from work.

Fraga did not testify on his own behalf, but the criminal complaint states he told authorities Samantha had gotten up around midnight to get a drink of water, and that all six children were fine when he left to pick up his wife at 2:20 a.m.

During the trial, Fraga's daughter testified that she had no idea what had happened to Samantha until she was informed by authorities the morning of March 20, 2008.

Klumpp said Tuesday that the girl actually witnessed the murder.

Fraga had been molesting the girl since she was young, Klumpp alleged, but when she refused to have sex with her father that night, he taped her to the chair as a punishment and forced her to watch as he took Samantha's life.

Crumpled pieces of duct tape and a roll of the tape were found during the investigation, Klumpp said.

"We didn't understand the significance of the items at that time," he stated.

The state filed a motion to reopen the evidentiary hearing portion of a post-conviction relief entered by Fraga's defense team.

In January of this year, the defense stated new evidence had surfaced showing Fraga's oldest son had lied on the stand during the trial. The boy had denied ever touching his cousin sexually during testimony, but during some later counseling sessions, he admitted he had done so several times.

The defense had hoped to bring the case up for retrial based on the new evidence.

Defense attorney Suzanne Senecal-Hill said the jury may have come up with a different verdict if the boy had not lied.

"If you put that information in front of a jury, what would they do?" Senecal-Hill asked.

The defense wants the case to go directly to a new trial instead of into an evidentiary hearing.

"We now have two key witnesses who lied," said Senecal-Hill. "The thing that would be fair would be to give Mr. Fraga a new trial to determine his guilt or innocence."

The prosecution is asking only that the new evidence from Fraga's daughter be entered into the record.

In the event the case goes to an appellate court, the information would then be available for review by the appellate judges.

"The court needs to know what the entire picture looks like," Klumpp stated.

Judge Timothy Connell told attorneys for both the defense and the prosecution he would quickly make a written order to deal with whether or not to reopen the evidentiary hearing.