Toddler’s Brutal Rape & Murder Faces Trial No. 3

     ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) – A man convicted twice already of brutally raping and killing his 2-year-old niece will get a third trial, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled, citing juror bias.
     “We understand that the relatives of a little girl and others in the community of Worthington have suffered a grievous loss,” Justice David Lillehaug wrote for the unanimous court Wednesday. “We understand that they have endured the pain of two trials. We recognize that their grief may be sharpened by the decision today.
     “Still and all … our constitutions and the fairness they embody require that, if we cannot say that each and every juror was impartial, we cannot say that justice was done,” Lillehaug concluded.
     The tragedy shook the city of Worthington on March 20, 2008, when Josue Robles Fraga woke his wife early one morning saying “something was happening” with his niece, Samantha, identified in the court record only as S.R.
     When S.R. arrived at the emergency room, her internal temperature was 84 degrees.
     Medical staff noted she also had bruises on her head and knees, and her stomach was “distended and discolored,” the decision states. The nurse who took S.R.’s temperature said it “looked like a firecracker had gone off in her rectum,” from which internal tissue was protruding. She was pronounced dead shortly thereafter.
     Though Fraga claimed S.R.’s 3-year-old brother had been jumping on her, the doctor said this would not likely have caused the injuries that led to her death, the decision states.
     In addition to caring for S.R. and her brother, Fraga and his wife also had four children of their own. All five children were sent into foster care after police interviewed them.
     Throughout the trailer where the family lived and on S.R.’s clothing, investigators found “considerable amounts of feces and semen,” according to the ruling.
     The semen and feces on S.R.’s clothes were matched to one of Fraga’s sons, and other semen was a match for Fraga. There was also semen from an unknown source in the diaper S.R. wore to the hospital.
     An autopsy revealed that S.R. had died hours before Fragas woke his wife, before she even came home from work, the decision states. The medical examiner found her stomach had ruptured, but the cause of death was a traumatic head injury.
     “S.R. also had swollen sexual organs and a prolapsed rectum,” the decision states. “She had a hemorrhage more than 2 inches long inside her rectum, most likely the result of penetration or trauma to the area.”
     After Fraga was convicted on three charges of murder, the son whose semen was on her clothing later admitted to sexually abusing S.R. and her brother, but “never penetrating her,” according to the decision.
     The district court ordered a new trial, at which Fraga was charged with five counts of murder.
     Admitted as evidence was a letter one of Fraga’s daughters, named in the decision only as “Child B.” Addressed to a friend, the letter admitted to having witnessed S.R.’s death and undergone “years of sexual abuse,” both at the hands of Fraga.
     “Child B testified that her father tried to ‘rape’ her the night of S.R.’s death, ‘like he usually did,'” the decision states. “Child B testified that when she refused, Fraga got mad and grabbed S.R. Fraga taped Child B to a chair, and started flushing S.R.’s head in the toilet. Child B testified that Fraga then brought S.R. to the bathtub and ran water over her face. Child B said that S.R. had a bowel movement due to the pressure put on her stomach.
     “Fraga then let Child B go from the chair, and she went back to her bed. She said that she could still hear S.R. crying and gasping for air,” the decision states.
     After he was convicted, Fraga appealed, claiming, among other things, that the court should not have allowed anyone who knew about his prior conviction to serve on the jury. He claimed one juror in particular had a personal bias against him.
     Juror M, as this individual is named in the decision, talked about the case with friends and family, and knew and trusted two witnesses on the list, according to the ruling.
     His mother-in-law was a nurse who started work at the hospital emergency room where S.R. was examined hours after she was pronounced dead, the decision states.
     When asked whether he could put aside what he knew and thought about the case, his “answers were repeatedly equivocal, including the phrases ‘yes, I guess,’ ‘I guess I could do that, yes,’ ‘I guess,’ ‘I can form my own opinion, I guess,’ ‘I don’t think so,’ and (twice) ‘I don’t know,'” Lillehaug wrote.
     The defense’s motion to remove Juror M was unsuccessful, and the Supreme Court said Wednesday that this was error that requires reversing Fraga’s conviction.
     “His ambiguous acknowledgement that ‘I think it would be hard’ was probative of bias,” Lillehaug wrote. “Also … that they had used the word ‘sickening’ to refer to the matter, and that ‘sickening’ was the word that came to his mind.”
     Local news outlets report Fraga, who had been sentenced to life without parole, will remain in custody pending the new trial.
     In the small southern Minnesota city of Worthington, a park bench stands dedicated to S.R.’s memory.

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