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MN Supreme Court denies convicted child killer Josue Fraga an appeal

MARSHALL -- The Minnesota Supreme Court denied on Wednesday Josue Fraga's appeal to his first-degree murder conviction. The Worthington man was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in 2016 for the murder of his 2-year-old...

MARSHALL - The Minnesota Supreme Court denied on Wednesday Josue Fraga’s appeal to his first-degree murder conviction.

The Worthington man was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in 2016 for the murder of his 2-year-old niece, Samantha.

Fraga was initially convicted of the murder in 2009, but the discovery of new evidence overturned his conviction and he was granted a new trial. His second conviction in 2013 was vacated after a successful appeal citing juror bias.

Samantha and her brother lived at the home of Fraga, along with his wife and four children, in Worthington. Samantha was taken to the hospital on May 20, 2008, after Fraga had found her unresponsive in her room. Fraga had told doctors Samantha’s injuries were caused by her brother jumping on her. She was pronounced dead at 6:18 a.m. at the hospital.

Medical staff observed that Samantha had several signs of abuse that didn’t match with Fraga’s statement, such as trauma to her genitals and rectum, so they contacted law enforcement. Fraga has denied ever sexually or physically abusing Samantha and stuck with his previous statement while being interviewed by officers.

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Before the second trial - and three years after Samantha’s death - Eva Fraga, Fraga’s daughter, wrote a letter to a friend stating her father had abused her since she was a child and that she had witnessed how he killed Samantha. Eva Fraga had denied in the first trial that Fraga had abused her and that she didn’t see Samantha’s incident.

However, in the third trial Eva Fraga testified her father had abused her and that he killed Samantha. According to Eva Fraga, her father got angry after she didn’t let Fraga take her clothes off. He then grabbed Samantha and assaulted her. Eva Fraga said her father told her “that’s what happens when (you) refuse (me).”

In his appeal, Fraga challenged the district court’s refusal to admit audio and video recording of the investigators with Eva Fraga, where she denied any knowledge about the incident and denied Fraga abused her.  

According to the defense, the recordings were the best evidence showing Eva Fraga didn’t appear afraid or upset during the interviews, and the recordings would therefore rebut her testimony at trial that she had lied because she was afraid.

The State objected, arguing that playing the 2.3 hours of recordings would be cumulative and a waste of time since Eva Fraga had repeatedly admitted making the inconsistent statements during her testimony, which would have allowed him to challenge the credibility of  Eva Fraga. The State instead suggested the court play only the portions of the recorded interviews involving Eva Fraga’s prior inconsistent statements.

Fraga also challenged the court’s decisions to admit “irrelevant and unfairly prejudicial” evidence. The evidence established that Fraga had sexually abused his brother when he was child and that Fraga received financial assistance to care for Samantha and her brother. Still, both children were in poor condition. Fraga, who denied all allegations, contended this evidence was irrelevant and highly prejudicial. According to the State, those two facts showed Fraga’s pattern of abuse.

Other evidence contested by Fraga was that he took medication for erectile dysfunction, a dietary supplement for women labeled “Steel Libido.” That, along with sexual lubricant and a condom were found in Fraga’s home and car.

In addition to the alleged evidentiary errors, Fraga contended the prosecutor committed misconduct that requires a new trial and that the sentencing order was erroneous. During the State’s closing argument, the prosecutor referred to the financial assistance Fraga received to take care of both children, but still Samantha was unhealthy.  Fraga claimed these statements were improper because they insinuated he intentionally deprived the children of food and care. He stated the prosecutor failed to “avoid inflaming the jury’s passions and prejudices against the defendant.”

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The Minnesota Supreme Court concluded the prosecutor's statement during the closing argument “did not affect Fraga’s substantial rights.”

Related Topics: CRIME
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