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Six jurors picked in bus crash case; Franco may not testify

WILLMAR -- Six jurors were selected Monday in the trial of Olga Marina Franco Del Cid, 24, of Minneota, who is accused of causing the fatal Feb. 19 Cottonwood school bus crash.

Juror questioning began Monday morning before Judge David W. Peterson at the Kandiyohi County Courthouse. Lyon County Attorney Rick Maes and defense attorney Manuel Guerrero have accepted six of the 12 potential jurors to come before the court. So far, four women and two men have been selected. Jury selection continues today and opening arguments are expected later in the week.

The Lyon County trial is being conducted in Willmar, based on a change of venue ordered by Peterson. The judge has also imposed a gag order on all parties in the case.

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.

According to Teresa Fredrickson, the court administrator for Kandiyohi, Swift and Meeker counties, 100 Kandiyohi County residents received and filled out juror questionnaires and represent the jury pool for the case. The court administration office is using a call-in system to ensure the potential jurors are available when needed for questioning, she said.

The judge and attorneys are questioning each potential juror individually, without other potential jurors or selected jurors present in the courtroom.

Questions by the attorneys have included whether or not the potential jurors know anyone involved in the case or in law enforcement or emergency services, have formed opinions from pretrial media publicity or have the ability to weigh the evidence presented in the case.

Guerrero questioned the potential jurors on whether or not his client's immigration status -- she is alleged to have used a false identification and name -- and the allegation that she told investigators that false name would have a bearing on their verdict. He has not said if Franco will testify on her own behalf.

"We don't know yet if Ms. Franco is going to testify or not yet," he said to a potential juror. "But would you hold it against her if she didn't?"