Olga Franco wants trial moved againby Mark Steil, Minnesota Public Radio
Olga Franco wants her trial moved again, from rural Kandiyohi County to the Twin Cities. Franco faces charges of vehicular homicide from a school bus accident that killed four students in February.
Defense lawyers say DNA evidence supports their claim that Franco was not driving the van when it hit the school bus. The defense talked about the DNA evidence after a court hearing this morning in Marshall.
Marshall, Minn. — The crash happened shortly after school closed for the day in the Lakeview School District in the town of Cottowood. A van struck the school bus broadside along Highway 23.
Olga Franco was charged with vehicular homicide, but claims she was not driving the van. The native of Guatemala, says her boyfriend was behind the wheel.
The boyfriend left the scene of the accident and has not been found.
Defense attorney Manuel Guerrero, says DNA evidence in the case could play a significant role in supporting Franco's claims.
Guerrero says the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension conducted DNA tests on human material found on the airbags in the van and he says blood was found on both passenger and driver airbags.
Guerrero went on to say that the BCA tests show that none of the blood came from Olga Franco, but rather, from an unidentified male.
"It's our opinion that it was the boyfriend whose blood they found as well as the skin cells on the airbags," said Guerrero.
After the accident, according to Guerrero, Olga Franco was found in between the driver and passenger seats. He says the force of the impact threw her from the passenger seat towards the driver's side. He says the air bags struck her only a glancing blow and that's why none of her DNA was found on the bags. Guerrero contends the boyfriend took the full force of the airbag deployment.
The prosecutor in the case, Lyon County attorney Rick Maes, did not respond to requests for comment on the DNA findings. Maes did talk about the request to move the trial to the Twin Cities, saying that it's not needed.
Two weeks ago Judge David Peterson ordered the trial moved from Marshall to Willmar. Maes says the trial should stay in Willmar.
"I don't believe that a basis has been made for it to be moved once again," Maes said. "I think we should expect to move ahead beginning July 28th."
That's the scheduled start date for Olga Franco's trial.
The defense wants the trial moved to the Twin Cities for several reasons.
Attorney Manuel Guerrero says it will be easier to find an impartial jury in the large metropolitan area and all members of the defense team live in the Twin Cities.
Guerrero says moving the trial to Hennepin or Ramsey County would save travel time and help them conduct a better defense for Olga Franco.
However, prosecutor Rick Maes said moving the trial would inconvenience many witnesses who live near the crash site in southwest Minnesota.
Judge David Peterson has said he will rule on the request for another change of venue soon.
- All Things Considered, 06/27/2008, 5:50 p.m.