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Minnesota man found guilty of killing 2-year-old niece, gets life sentence

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WORTHINGTON, Minn. -- Shortly after 8 p.m. Wednesday, the jury in the murder trial of Josue Fraga -- charged with killing his 2-year-old niece -- came to a verdict.

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A few minutes later, as Fraga was staring down at the desk in front of him and wiping away tears, the court reporter read that verdict:

Guilty on all five counts of murder.

“The state is happy with the result, and we think justice was served,” Nobles County Attorney Kathleen Kusz said.

Fraga was sentenced to life without parole.

“The defense is disappointed in the verdict and we will be talking with our client regarding any further proceedings and appeal,” defense attorney Cecil Naatz said.

On the morning of March 20, 2008, Samantha Fraga died due to severe head injuries. She had bruises on her head, back and legs, her stomach was distended and her autopsy showed she had a 2-inch rupture in her stomach. She had injuries and swelling to her genitals and a prolapsed rectum, including injuries 2 inches inside her anal canal.

Fraga was found guilty on charges of murder in the first degree while committing criminal sexual conduct; murder in the first degree while committing child abuse; murder in the first degree while committing domestic abuse; murder in the second degree while committing criminal sexual conduct; and murder in the second degree while committing assault in the first degree.

Earlier Wednesday, both the state and the defense had an opportunity to make closing statements.

In his closing argument, Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Bill Klumpp told a story to the jury -- a story of abuse, rape and torture. Klumpp said Fraga went into his children’s bedroom and got his daughter out of bed. He took her into the bedroom and tried to do things to her, Klumpp said.

“She summoned up the courage to say no to her father,” Klumpp said. “The price in denying that was that Samantha lost her life.”

Klumpp recalled the daughter’s testimony of how she was taped to a chair and forced to watch as her father assaulted Samantha. The daughter was let go and went back to bed.

“Eventually, Samantha went silent,” Klumpp said. “At that point, the defendant probably put her back to bed dead next to her brother.”

At 5:35 a.m., Fraga and his wife took Samantha to the hospital. The staff worked on her for nearly 45 minutes, but resuscitation efforts failed and she was pronounced dead.

As Klumpp was outlining each of the five counts of murder against Fraga, he showed pictures of Samantha’s body to the jury.

“If that doesn’t constitute force or violence, nothing does,” Klumpp said.

At one point during the state’s closing arguments, Fraga fought to hold back tears. A person sitting behind the defense in the courtroom left to get a box of tissues for the defendant.

As Klumpp was finishing his closing statement, he walked in front of Fraga. He pointed his finger at him and asked the jury for a guilty verdict “because that’s what justice demands.”

Defense attorney Cecil Naatz then addressed the jury.

“What you’ve heard in the last week and a half is the tragic last months of a little girl named Miss Samantha Fraga,” Naatz said.

Samantha was born premature and had problems from birth, Naatz said, “and her life didn’t get any better.” After her mother died, Samantha was placed with Fraga and his wife.

“She began to be abused sexually,” Naatz said. “Not by Josue Fraga, but by her older 13-year-old cousin, Josue David Fraga.”

The night before, when Samantha was being given a bath, she complained of her butt hurting.

“Of course it hurt,” Naatz said. “She was being sexually abused by Josue David.”

During the night, Naatz said, Josue David knew his father left to pick up his mother.

“That was a regular occurrence Josue David knows very well,” Naatz said. “He knows when there is another chance to get one of his little cousins alone to -- as he put it -- fulfill his sexual urges.”

When the police arrived at the Fragas' trailer the next morning, Naatz said according to testimony, Josue David was anxious, nervous and worried. The daughter, however, was calm and helpful, Naatz said.

“He knew what happened -- it made him sick to his stomach,” Naatz said.

Naatz spent much of his time contradicting the statements the state had presented earlier.

“You’re not being asked to put the blame on anybody,” Naatz said. “The only question you have is to find Josue Fraga guilty or not guilty.”

Aaron Hagen | Forum News Service

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