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Testimony begins in Fraga trial

WORTHINGTON -- Dr. Victor Froloff, assistant medical examiner at the Ramsey County Medical Examiner's Office, testified in Nobles County District Court that he suspects damage found on Samantha Fraga's face was caused by someone putting a hand over her mouth to keep her quiet.

Froloff was the first witness to testify in the trial of Josue Fraga, who is accused of murdering his 2-year-old niece Samantha while sexually molesting her in March 2008.

A jury of seven men and seven women viewed autopsy photos of Samantha's body as Froloff described his actions during the procedure and conclusions he reached.

He told the jury that when he received Samantha's body, she was wearing a diaper that was stained with blood and feces. That blood, he believes, came from lacerations and abrasions in her rectum, which was swollen, dilated and prolapsed. In the diaper, Froloff found a black hair, which he bagged as evidence.

The child's death, he said, was ruled a homicide, and the cause of death was traumatic head injury. The peritonitis caused by her ruptured stomach was potentially fatal, he stated. When asked if the stomach was ruptured by a blow, he said it was not.

"I think this was done by a squeezing of the body against an object," he stated.

The injuries to her sex organs and rectum were not life threatening, but could not be overlooked easily, he explained.

"It would be absolutely impossible not to notice anything if you changed the diaper of this kid," he said.

One odd thing Froloff found, he said, was that Samantha's hair was falling out of her head, which could have been caused by a number of things, including nerves and malnutrition.

Froloff estimates the child's death as four to eight hours before she was brought into the emergency room at 5:35 a.m., based on several factors, including the core body temperature of 84 degrees.

"I personally think she died sometime around midnight," he testified.

Opening statements began Wednesday after more than four days of jury selection. Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Bill Klumpp, who is prosecuting the case with assistance from Nobles County Attorney Gordon Moore, stood in front of the jury and told Samantha's "sad story."

"On March 19 and 20, the defendant, Josue Fraga, beat to death and sexually assaulted his 2-year-old niece," he said, then explained that Samantha and her 3-year-old brother ended up in the custody of their aunt and uncle after their father got in trouble with the law.

"Samantha and (her brother) did not fare well in the custody of Josue and Maricela," he added.

During the next few days, Klumpp told the jury, they would hear about Fraga and his family -- his wife, Maricela, his brothers, his four children and his brother's children. They would hear testimony from many of those family members, along with various medical doctors and law enforcement officers. They would watch the videotaped interviews of Fraga and law enforcement and see Fraga tell officers that he can't explain any of the little girl's injuries.

"What you need to do is follow the trail of the evidence," Klumpp said. "When you do that, you will come to the conclusion that the defendant committed the crimes he is charged with."

Public Defender Cecil Naatz told the jury they would see photos that would show the injuries of a little girl who was killed, but reminded them they were not there to determine if injuries had occurred but if the defendant was the one who caused them.

"Something bad happened to this little girl," Naatz stated. "But we believe Josue Fraga did not cause the injuries and is not guilty of the crimes."

Naatz said Fraga's brother Samuel, who is Samantha's father, had called Fraga six or seven months after the two children went into Fraga's custody. He wanted his children back, Naatz said, but when Fraga told him that wasn't possible, Samuel got mad. He told a welfare worker in Texas that Fraga had sexually abused him as a child.

"But they checked it out, and there was nothing to it," Naatz said.

He pointed out that 40 minutes of CPR took place on Samantha in the emergency room, and that a nurse who took the girl's temperature rectally didn't notice anything unusual the first time, but when she took the temperature again about 20 minutes later, she was appalled by what she saw.

Naatz told the jury that Fraga's 13-year-old son was nervous and anxious when authorities came to talk to the children, and that a drawing was found in his notebook depicting Samantha as dead.

Other evidence they hear, Naatz said, would prove some things and raise questions about other facts.

"A very pretty little girl is dead, and you may hear evidence that makes the defendant look bad," Naatz admitted. "But you will not hear evidence that Josue Fraga abused or killed Samantha. The evidence will show you that he was not Samantha's abuser, not her killer, and not guilty."