Jury selection will continue into third day in Franco trial
WILLMAR -- Jury selection continues today in the trial of the Guatemalan woman accused of causing the fatal school bus crash near Cottonwood.
In the past two days, 12 Kandiyohi County citizens have been selected to serve in the jury trial of Olga Marina Franco Del Cid, 24, of Minneota, who faces a total of 24 charges stemming from the Feb. 19 crash. The Lyon County case has been moved to Willmar under a change of venue.
The 12 jurors seated so far -- four men and eight women -- include a teacher, a registered nurse, a railroad worker, a janitor, a postal service worker, an engineer, a collections worker, two at-home mothers and retirees. The occupations and interests of the jurors have been discussed in questioning by Lyon County Attorney Rick Maes and defense attorney Manuel Guerrero.
As each juror has been selected, District Judge David W. Peterson has instructed them not to talk to others about the case.
On Tuesday, told jurors he believes the case will start on Thursday.
Six jurors were selected Monday, and six more on Tuesday. The 12 have been picked from a total of 26 potential jurors who have been questioned. The court is expected to seat 14 or 15 people, which would include "alternates" in case a juror cannot continue for some reason -- illness or some other emergency, for example.
Potential jurors have been excused by Judge Peterson after they have revealed their involvement in law enforcement or family connections to law enforcement officers. A woman was excused Tuesday morning after she told the judge her close relatives were among the first responders to the crash along state Highway 23 south of Cottonwood. She also said the relatives told her "the lady's leg was wedged under the steering wheel" when they went to help the driver of the van.
Several others have been excused after they expressed that they might not be able to set aside information they had learned from news accounts of the crash, or would have a hard time being impartial to the fact that Franco is accused of being in the country illegally and of lying about her name and immigration status.
A man was excused from serving after he told Guerrero it would take "quite a bit of evidence" to dissuade him from believing that Franco was driving the minivan that caused the bus accident. The judge has ruled previously that the defense will be allowed to argue that Franco's boyfriend was the driver of the van.
Franco faces four charges of criminal vehicular homicide for the Feb. 19 deaths of four Lakeview School students: Jesse Javens, 13; his brother, Hunter Javens, 9; Emilee Olson, 9; and Reed Stevens, 12. Sixteen other children, who ranged in age from 4 to 15 years old, and another driver whose vehicle was struck by the bus, were injured in the crash. Franco is accused of 17 charges of criminal vehicular injury.
According to court and State Patrol documents, the bus was southbound on state Highway 23 around 3:45 p.m. Feb. 19 when it was struck by a minivan allegedly driven by Franco. The bus rolled onto its side in the roadway. The crash happened at the intersection with Lyon County Road 24 just south of Cottonwood.
Franco, who is also known as Alianiss Nunes Morales, is also charged with a gross misdemeanor for giving a false name to a peace officer and misdemeanor charges for driving without a license and for not stopping at a stop sign.