MINNEAPOLIS - The Minnesota Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld the convictions of a woman who claimed she was not driving a minivan that slammed into the side of a school bus in southwest Minnesota in 2008, killing four children and injuring 17.
Olga Franco del Cid, 26, is serving a 12 1/2-year prison sentence after a Kandiyohi County jury convicted her on 24 counts, including four counts of criminal vehicular homicide for the accident near Cottonwood, which is about 120 miles west of Minneapolis. An attorney for Franco del Cid, who claimed her then-boyfriend was the driver, argued on appeal that the evidence against her was insufficient.
In a 29-page decision Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the appeals court ruled that even though both sides presented conflicting evidence at trial, it's up to a jury to decide what to believe, and which testimony is credible.
"This is precisely the type of determination that is reserved for the jury," Judge Francis Connolly wrote, adding that Franco del Cid was found with her right foot pinned below the accelerator.
"There was sufficient evidence to allow the jury to find that the state had proven beyond a reasonable doubt that appellant was driving the car," Connolly wrote.
Franco del Cid's attorney, Manuel Guerrero, said Tuesday he may recommend that his client ask the Minnesota Supreme Court to review the decision.
Guerrero also argued on appeal that statements Franco del Cid made in the hospital after the crash were given involuntarily and should not have been allowed, that jury instructions were given in error, and that statements made by the prosecutor and witnesses amounted to misconduct.
The justices rejected those arguments.
"A defendant is entitled to one fair trial, not two," Connolly wrote.
On Feb. 19, 2008, Franco del Cid ran a stop sign and struck the side of a school bus, killing 9-year-old Hunter Javens; his 13-year-old brother, Jesse, 9-year-old Emilee Olson and 12-year-old Reed Stevens.
Emergency responders found Franco del Cid pinned in the front seat of the minivan, somewhere between the driver's seat and passenger's seat. She was injured, and while hospitalized, she told authorities she had been driving. She later said her then-boyfriend had been driving but ran away because he did not want to be deported.
Franco del Cid is a native of Guatemala and is in the country illegally. In 2009, she married a St. Paul man who wrote to her in prison, but she is still likely to be deported after she is released.