MARSHALL - Day two of testimony in the third trial of Josue Robles Fraga centered primarily around the moments leading up to and hours past the pronouncement of 2-year-old Samantha Fraga’s death in 2008.
A mixture of both medical and law enforcement personnel were called as witnesses Tuesday to offer insight into what happened on March 20, 2008. Registered nurse Joan Johnson was the first on the stand in Lyon County District Court, testifying about how Fraga reacted at the news of Samantha’s death and when he first saw the child after she’d been declared dead by Dr. Lisa Gerdes.
Johnson recalled Fraga had said “she looks so much worse” after viewing Samantha, adding that both Josue and Marisela Fraga were quiet overall and didn’t offer much to Johnson in the way of history on Samantha at the time. Johnson clarified her remark during cross-examination, agreeing with her testimony in Fraga’s previous trial that the couple appeared stunned or shocked. Johnson said quiet was the same as stunned or shocked.
Gerdes recalled that when she told the couple Samantha was deceased, Fraga was a “little teary” but didn’t have much of a reaction to the news. Later in her testimony, she said she couldn’t be sure he had cried. However, Gerdes said Fraga commented he ‘couldn’t go see her like that,” referring to Samantha.
Gerdes told the jury that Fraga had attempted to explain Samantha’s injuries with a story of her older brother jumping on her. Gerdes was not convinced of the plausibility of that account.
“If a child was being jumped on by a sibling, you’d expect them to be screaming so an adult could intervene,” Gerdes testified.
The deposition of Sister Karen Thien, who served as an interpreter to Josue and Marisela at the hospital, was read to jurors. In her deposition, Thien said Fraga had told her he had seen the young boy jumping on Samantha at 2 a.m., approximately 30 minutes before he left the home to pick up his wife from work.
Thien said Fraga had later told her he was concerned how he was going to tell the boy Samantha had died. Thien said under cross-examination that Fraga also expressed concern about his children who were still at home, as well as Samantha, before learning of her passing.
Soon after 7:30 a.m. on March 20, 2008, Sgt. Tim Gaul testified that he arrived at the Fraga home with Blaine Radke of Nobles County Family Services to take the Fraga children into custody. Gaul said he was let into the mobile home by the oldest Fraga boy, and that he gathered the children to take them to Prairie Justice Center and later to a foster home for an emergency placement while the case was under investigation.
Gaul noted that right before he, Radke and the children left the home, the oldest son had been acting distracted and was having difficulty concentrating on instructions Gaul had given to him. The teen went to the rest room just before leaving, and Gaul said he heard the young man vomiting.
Radke transported the Fragas’ youngest three children and his nephew, while the oldest son rode with Gaul. Gaul said he purposely had not told any of the children why they were being taken from the home - and never mentioned Samantha had died - in an effort to keep them calm.
Although he was not prompted by Gaul in any manner, the eldest child allegedly asked Gaul a question as they were driving to Prairie Justice Center.
“Is this about something good or something bad?” the young man allegedly asked the officer.
The defense subsequently had Gaul reiterate the oldest son’s behavior in contrast with his sister, who according to Gaul appeared “calm,” “motherly” and “very sweet.” In opening statements Monday, the defense painted the oldest son as the real perpetrator of Samantha’s attack; this line of questioning of Gaul seemed to support that assertion.
Under redirect questioning by the prosecution, Gaul noted that the young man’s behavior was not that different from others who would be concerned about a missing child or family member. Further, he acknowledged the teen had allowed law enforcement in the home, answered all questions he was asked and did not object to leaving his home with Gaul.
The majority of the afternoon’s testimony came from Worthington Police Department Det. David Hoffman, and included video of an interview of Fraga conducted by Hoffman the morning Samantha died.
In the interview, Fraga told Hoffman that Samantha’s older brother often jumped on her.
“They were always fighting,” Fraga remarked.
He told Hoffman he had not really known his niece and nephew prior to their placement in his home. He also said that in his last visit with a social worker who was working with the Fraga family, questions had been raised about child abuse. He was unsure, though, if the abuse claims were made against him or his brother, Samuel Fraga.
Fraga shared with Hoffman that he’d sat the children down for dinner around 7 or 7:30 p.m. the night before Samantha died. At 9 p.m., she and her older brother were still eating.
“They eat quite a lot,” Fraga commented. “... Very healthy appetite.”
The two young children, along with Fraga’s two youngest sons, were sent to bed at 9:30 p.m. His oldest two children went to bed 30 minutes later. All six children slept in the same room on two bunk beds.
Fraga explained to Hoffman that his niece and nephew often fought and woke up throughout the night. Fraga chalked it up to “trying to get used to the surroundings - to us.”
Fraga said he picked up Marisela from work at 2:30 a.m. and promptly returned home. It was at 5:30 a.m. that Fraga claimed to hear the two youngest Fragas fighting as he had woken to use the rest room.
“‘No, Samantha,’” Fraga said he heard. “It sounds familiar because he always says that when he hits her.”
Fraga told Hoffman that he observed the boy fall onto Samantha two or three times, once with his feet and the second with his knees mainly around her stomach.
“How he got Samantha down (on the floor) I don’t know,” Fraga said. “I was sleeping.”
Fraga said he screamed for his wife when he lifted Samantha and found her body to be limp. He told Hoffman that the remaining four children in the bedroom slept through the incident, adding that the children used to be woken up by their cousins but that they “must have got used to it or something.”
Search warrants were executed on the afternoon and evening after Samantha died. Hoffman said the warrants were for Fraga’s clothing, DNA and a penile swab along with clothing and DNA from Fraga’s oldest son. Likewise, search warrants were executed on the Fraga residence and on the vehicle used to transport Samantha to the emergency room.
Hoffman said several items were collected from the Fraga home based on the evidence that Samantha had been sexually assaulted. Items varied from household objects to male enhancement supplements, pornography and other marital aids.
On cross-examination, it was clarified that ownership of any of the items collected was not illegal and in fact no illegal items were found in the residence. In addition, Samantha’s DNA was not found during analysis of the penile swab taken from Fraga, nor was any semen ever found on the victim.
The defense also noted that no similar swab had been taken from Fraga’s son. Hoffman said he was unable to testify if Samantha’s DNA would have been found on the son since the test had not been ordered.
The defense and prosecution traded volleys by trading questions for Hoffman. While the defense noted the oldest that Fraga’s son’s clothing hadn’t been collected until later in the evening, which could have permitted him to change clothing, the prosecution noted that only the young man’s DNA had been discovered in his underwear - none belonged to Samantha.
Hoffman said while he didn’t believe the young man had had access to a change of clothes, he couldn’t rule it out. The prosecution countered that Fraga himself could have changed clothing himself after the assault on Samantha.