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Second day of Fraga trial features eight witnesses

WORTHINGTON — More details were presented Tuesday in the second day of the murder trial of Josue Fraga.

During testimony of Worthington Police Detective Dave Hoffman, the interview with Fraga was shown and a letter from Fraga’s daughter outlining years of sexual abuse was read aloud. A total of eight witnesses took the stand on the second day in the retrial of Fraga, who is charged with three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder of his 2-year-old niece, Samantha.

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Hoffman was the one who initially interviewed Fraga on the morning on March 20, less than an hour after Samantha was pronounced dead. The recording of that interview was played for those in the courtroom Tuesday afternoon.

“(Her brother) and Samantha were always fighting and throwing stuff at each other,” Fraga told Hoffman. “He would always jump on her. He did so many things, I thought it was because they were playing.”

Fraga told Hoffman he put the kids to bed at 9 or 9:30 p.m.

“Everything was fine at 2:30 (a.m.),” Fraga said.

As the interview went on, Fraga told Hoffman that he witnessed Samantha on the floor and her brother “doing the knee thing,” where he would jump on his sister. It was that action that caused her injuries, Fraga said. After more questioning, Fraga asked for his children.

“You’re making me feel like you’re blaming us,” Fraga told Hoffman.

The detective recounted the events of the day, from the search warrant he obtained to get DNA and clothes from both Fraga and his son, Josue David.

Hoffman had a discussion with Josue David later in the day after a phone call. Josue David told Hoffman he had additional information. However, when pressed, he admitted his father contacted him and told him to tell law enforcement a different story.

As part of testimony, Hoffman read a letter that was brought to his attention by Fraga’s daughter.

“She was sexually abused by Josue and saw what happened to Samantha,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman read aloud the letter, which outlined repeated sexual abuse by Fraga. The letter also outlined the night of Samantha’s death.

“He taped me to a chair so I’d watch,” she said, adding that she had witnessed the alleged attack.

Two other police officers took the stand Tuesday, including Erik Youngblom and Tim Gaul. Youngblom was the first on the scene at the hospital, while Gaul assisted in removing the other children from the Fraga home.

Gaul said a younger child had to be awakened from the bedroom, but the rest were already up and preparing for school. The oldest, Josue David, seemed distracted, Gaul said.

“He seemed to have his mind other places,” Gaul said. “It took a bit for me to get him focused enough to do what I asked him to.”

Gaul said Josue David then said he needed to use the restroom.

“He went into the bathroom and it sounded to me like he threw up in the bathroom,” Gaul said.

The children were taken to Prairie Justice Center in Worthington.

“When we were on the way there (Josue David) asked me if it was something good or something bad,” Gaul said, adding he kept the conversation vague.

The final witness was Dr. Kristine Everding, the family physician who gave the examination to Samantha and her brother prior to being in the custody of the Fragas.

She described them as “pleasant, cooperative, well-behaved children.”

Everding stated that Samantha weighed 20 points, 10 ounces. At the time of her death months later, she weighed two ounces less.

But at the time of the exam, “They appeared well cared for and healthy,” Everding said.

The first witness of the day was Joan Johnson, a registered nurse who was working the morning of Samantha’s death.

“The baby was pulseless, didn’t have a heartbeat and didn’t have any respirations,” Johnson testified.

Johnson said she was the first one to look at the body temperature of Samantha. At 5:51 a.m., the temperature was 84 degrees.

“With a temperature that low, you could assume the baby had been dead for quite a while,” Johnson said.

When Johnson first saw Samantha, she said the child appeared pale and blue.

“She was icy cold to the touch,” Johnson said.

Registered nurse Amy Hassebroek took the stand following Johnson Tuesday, and went into further detail about the CPR. She answered questions about whether Samantha’s distended stomach could have been from those resuscitative measures. While it was possible the air can go into the stomach while doing CPR, once an orogastric tube is placed, the air is normally released from the stomach.

“It didn’t deflate the stomach much at all, if any,” Hassebroek said.

She also said she witnessed blood from the stomach.

“When you get blood from the stomach, I figured there is a lot more going on here than what we’re seeing,” Hassebroek said.

Pediatrician Lisa Gerdes also testified Tuesday. She was the doctor who pronounced Samantha dead.

Sister Karen Thein was on the stand for 25 minutes and explained she was used to interpret at the hospital. She went with the Fragas to see Samantha after she was pronounced dead.

“They were, I believe, in shock,” Thein recalled. “There was very little said or very little emotion showed.”

The trial continues today, when more medical personnel are expected to testify. Fraga’s children could also appear on the witness stand today.