WORTHINGTON -- After less than five hours of deliberation, the jury delivered a verdict of guilty on all three counts in the Josue Fraga trial. Fraga was accused of murdering his 2-year-old niece Samantha in March 2008 while sexually molesting her.
Shortly after 9 p.m. Thursday, Fraga was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole and remanded to the custody of the Nobles County Sheriff's Office. From there he will be transferred to the custody of the Minnesota Department of Corrections.
Fraga was convicted of first-degree murder while committing first-degree criminal sexual conduct, second-degree murder without intent while committing first-degree criminal sexual conduct and second-degree murder without intent while committing first-degree assault. The jury also answered affirmative to seven aggravating factors in the case.
As the court administrator read the verdicts of all three charges, Fraga sat frozen, with his hands over his mouth and anguish on his face.
When asked if he had anything to say, Fraga spoke for the first time since the trial began.
"You guys are probably used to hearing this, but I didn't do it," he said. "I can't explain all this. I love every single one of my kids and I love my brothers' kids like my own."
He thanked the jury for their hard work, adding that he believed differently, but thanked them nonetheless.
Fraga said he understood he had just lost the trial, but to him, the greatest loss was not his freedom, but his family.
"I can't see them. I love my family, I love my kids," he stated emotionally. "In my heart and my conscious, I'm innocent. I know I am. I know I am."
Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Bill Klumpp, in a statement to the Daily Globe, called the case a horrendous crime.
"Nothing we did will bring back Samantha, but I hope she can find some peace," he stated. "And no other child should have to suffer the same fate now that he will be in prison for life."
Klumpp praised the efforts of Worthington detectives Kevin Flynn and Dave Hoffman and Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) Special Agent Derek Woodford, along with the BCA lab.
"And of course, Gordon Moore and his office," he added.
Nobles County Attorney Moore said the case has been a 14 month ordeal for everyone involved. He praised the efforts of the jury, who had to deal with an extraordinary case. But it had to be done, he explained, so that Samantha's killer could be held accountable.
"It was necessary that this day come, but it is not a day for gloating or celebration," Moore stated. "A child is dead and nothing can bring her back."
Moore seconded Klumpp's praise of the law enforcement officers involved in the case.
"It was a satisfying conclusion to a long process," he added.
Defense attorney Cecil Naatz said he is disappointed in the verdict and will refer the case to the state public defender's office for appeal.
"Mr. Fraga has maintained his innocence from the beginning, and as you heard, is still consistent with that," he added.
Shortly before 3:30 p.m. Thursday, the 12-member jury went into deliberation. Since May 6, they have listened to testimony of at least 40 people, watched hours of videotaped interviews and looked at more than 300 exhibits.
Closing arguments began in the early afternoon Thursday, with Klumpp speaking for more than an hour and a half.
The job of the prosecution, Klumpp told the jury, was to prove that Fraga was responsible for the death of Samantha. The jury's job, he added, was to use common sense and follow the trail of evidence.
"At one point, (Fraga) wanted us to believe it was (Samantha's) 3-year-old brother who was responsible for her injuries," Klumpp said. "I suspect the defense will argue it was the defendant's own 13-year-old son who killed Samantha."
The defense did exactly that. Their closing argument was delivered by Pam King, who along with Naatz, was tasked with defending Fraga.
"(The 13-year-old) may have chosen to be doing something in the secrecy of his bedroom he shouldn't have been doing," King said, adding that the teenager may have something more to do with the little girl's death than he wants to admit.
In a manner that any who have heard him deliver an argument would recognize, Klumpp wove points of the case into a complete picture for the jury to see, relating the events as he believes they took place. He spoke of Fraga's lack of sleep and impatience with a 2-year-old who was being toilet trained.
"Tired and frustrated, a parent can lose their patience and react. That is exactly what the defendant did," Klumpp stated.
After putting Samantha to bed, then having her get up to use a potty chair, the final straw for Fraga was when she got up once more with a full bowel movement in her pants, Klumpp suggested.
"That triggered the events that ultimately led to her death," he stated. "Rather than clean her up and send her back to bed, he punished her."
Klumpp talked of how Fraga might have thrown her dirty clothes in the tub and then anally penetrated her with on object.
"It hurt and she cried, and that's when he started beating her," Klumpp surmised. "You can see the knuckle impressions his fist made on her forehead."
He would have then put her forcefully into the tub, which caused the trauma to the back of her head, Klumpp said. Holding her down in the tub to clean her would have caused her stomach to rupture.
The state is not claiming that Fraga meant for Samantha to die, Klumpp explained.
"That would be killing the goose that laid the $12,000 golden egg," he added, referring to the funds the Fraga family had been paid by various government programs for the care of the two children.
It was only after Fraga saw the pictures of Samantha's bottom that he claimed he had erectile dysfunction, Klumpp pointed out.
"But the amount of semen in the defendant's home, Marisela's testimony and the fact that he had four children says otherwise," Klumpp stated.
Klumpp claimed that Fraga's explanations of the events of March 19 and March 20 changed and evolved, but King argued just the opposite.
"I invite you to listen to exactly what he said," she told the jury. "He had a particular amount of information he offered ... he didn't know what happened to this little girl ... he was stunned."
King called Fraga "honest and forthright," and said he was consistent in what he told the officers and explained what he knew.
She criticized the way the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) handled the investigation, alleging they picked a suspect from the start and never looked any further.
"We're not blaming (the 13-year-old)," King said. "Josue Fraga is a man who loves his children, and can't fathom the prospect that his 13-year-old boy could have done something so horrible."
Shortly after that comment, King mentioned questions about the teenager had gone unanswered.
"What was his role in all of this?" she asked. "After all, they were all in the same bedroom. He is almost as tall as his Dad."
King then went on to describe the Fragas as a happy family, pointing out photos of construction paper drawings and family pictures on the walls of the mobile home.
"A happy family?" Klumpp questioned during rebuttal, than grabbed the notebooks that had been seized from the children's bedroom and backpacks containing drawings he referred to as "disturbing." Although each Fraga child was asked during testimony, none of them claimed the drawings as their work.
"These show a hidden aspect of the Fraga home," he added.