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State rests in Fraga trial; defendant may testify

MARSHALL — The state rested their case against Josue Robles Fraga in Lyon County District Court Wednesday afternoon. After the defense called its only expected witness to the stand, forensic psychologist and child abuse specialist Dr. Hollida Wakefield, it met with Fraga and announced that the defendant would like to testify for the first time in his defense this morning.

The Worthington man is on trial in Marshall for the 2008 murder of his 2-year-old niece, Samantha. He was granted a change of venue from Nobles County after his convictions from two earlier trials were overturned.

Fraga’s trial was delayed Tuesday due to the blizzard that hit the area. Wednesday’s first witness — Alyssa Mondelli, a forensic scientist with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension — picked up where she left off Monday during the defense’s cross examination.

DNA taken from evidence at the scene matched both Fraga and his oldest son, Josue David Fraga. Definitive positive DNA source testing is not possible, Mondelli said in court, but potential suspects can be conclusively excluded from being a source.

Josue David Fraga’s DNA profile matched semen found on a pair of gray sweatpants found in the bathtub, and he was match to the predominant profile found on fluids taken from a pair of pink pants also taken from the tub. The defendant, however, could not be excluded from the DNA profile found on the pink pants.

Mondelli said she also tested semen found in the diaper Samantha was wearing when she was brought to the hospital, but stated that there was not enough sperm cells present to match any of the Fraga family members tested. Non-sperm cells tested from the diaper matched only Samantha and excluded the other Fraga family members.

After hearing from retired Nobles County Sheriff Deputy Brian McCarthy about his arrest of Fraga after a warrant was issued, the defendant’s brother and father of Samantha, Samuel Fraga, testified Wednesday.

Samuel Fraga said his brother was given custody of his children after a drug-related incident in his home that also involved a former girlfriend. In January 2008, when he tried to regain custody of his children that were under the care of the defendant, Samuel Fraga made a statement to a human services worker and later a detective on his daughter’s murder case about the sexual abuse he suffered from the defendant.

Samuel Fraga testified that his brother, Josue Robles Fraga, had raped him at least twice when they were children. The defense questioned why Samuel Fraga didn’t disclose the probable sexual assault before allowing his brother to take custody of his kids; Samuel Fraga said that his brother’s children appeared to be well taken care of and thought that his brother would do the same for his children.

When the defense continued to question him about the probable sexual assault, Samuel Fraga only replied with, “it’s not probable, he did.”

Samuel Fraga teared up when asked to identify a photograph of Samantha taken before her death. Josue Robles Fraga was able to keep his composure only until his brother left the courtroom.

Worthington Police Det. David Hoffman returned to the stand Wednesday morning to further testify about the defendant’s daughter, Eva Fraga, and the letter she wrote to a friend in 2011 confessing the abuse she endured and the murder she witnessed.

Hoffman read the letter aloud after it was entered into the court as an exhibit.

“Please don’t tell anyone,” the letter began. “Not even my mom knows these things.”

Eva Fraga wrote that she rarely talks about her father because “he is the reason I am not a virgin.”

“(He) raped me more than 100 times... every night I hoped I wouldn’t wake up,” Eva Fraga wrote in her letter. “The only reason he stopped is because he did something worse. He killed Samantha... and it’s my fault.”

Hoffman said he interviewed Eva Fraga in March 2011 after her letter was discovered by her therapist and spoke to the validity of her statement — a subject that came back into play Wednesday afternoon.

BCA Special Agent Derek Woodford interviewed Josue Robles Fraga the morning after Samantha’s murder. The video of his interview with Fraga was played in court Wednesday afternoon.

The defendant stated that he did not know what happened to Samantha and talked about her fighting with her brother.

“I never thought that kids that young could really hurt each other,” Fraga said in the recorded interview.

Woodford showed Fraga photos of Samantha’s body toward the end of the interview and asked how the trauma to her genitals and rectum could be explained, but Fraga did not have an answer. He said he put a diaper on Samantha before bringing her to the hospital the night of her death, but said that he never saw the injuries that Woodford pointed out in the photographs.

Woodford also testified that he did not believe that the murder could have happened in the bedroom where the children slept due to the lack of feces and blood that was present on the victim. He also found it unlikely that the other five children in the room would have been able to sleep through the assault.

The prosecution rested its case after Woodford was dismissed. After the jury was taken out of the courtroom for a brief recess, the defense made a motion for a direct verdict of acquittal, citing that the state’s case largely rests on circumstantial evidence as well as another suspect, Josue David Fraga. The motion was denied.

The defense called Wakefield to the stand as its first and only expected witness. Wakefield spoke about victim’s delayed disclosure of their abuse and that the protocol interview conducted on Eva was performed correctly. It was the only expert testimony for the defense in an attempt to diminish Eva Fraga’s claims of years of sexual abuse and witness to Samantha’s murder.

After another short recess and before the jury was released for the day, the defense returned to the courtroom to announce that Fraga was willing to testify in his defense.

It’s unknown how long Fraga will be on the stand, but it is possible that the jury could hear closing arguments from both sides before the end of today.