Jury seated in Olga Franco trial

Olga Franco
Olga Franco walks to the courthouse for a hearing to determine whether her trial will be moved out of Kandiyohi County to the Twin Cities.
MPR Photo/Mark Steil

In Willmar a judge has sworn in a panel of 15 people -- 12 jurors and three alternates -- in the trial of Olga Franco.

Franco is accused of killing four students by driving a minivan into a school bus last February near Cottonwood. Opening statements in the trial begin Thursday morning.

All 15 people sworn in will sit in the jury box, but only 12 will be a part of final deliberations at the end of testimony, the other three are alternates.

The jurors include 10 women and five men. The youngest is a junior in college, the oldest is in her 70s.

Among them are two retired nurses, two engineers, a mother of six, two maintenance workers, a social worker and railroad worker.

Kandiyohi County Courthouse
Olga Franco's trial will take place in the Kandiyohi County Courthouse in Willmar. Franco is accused of killing four students in a fatal school bus crash near Cottonwood in February of 2008.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

All of the jurors say they've seen news coverage of the case. They were all instructed by the judge to put aside what they'd heard in the media, and decide the case only on the facts they hear in court.

The case has been a high profile one since the accident happened back in February, in part because four children were killed ranging in age from 9 to 13.

It's also received a lot of attention because federal officials say Olga Franco is in the country illegally and has used a stolen identity.

But jurors aren't likely to hear much, if anything, about that in the trial. The jurors have been told they're job is to decide whether or not Olga Franco was driving the van that hit the school bus.

Prosecutors say she was the driver, while Franco says her boyfriend was driving at the time and fled after the accident. He hasn't been seen since, and the defense says the DNA of an unidentified male was found on the van's airbags.

It took nearly three full days to seat the jury -- 22 potential jurors were excused. A number of the expressed strong opinions in the case.

Some said they were convinced Franco was guilty and weren't likely to change their minds. Others said they felt so badly for the victims they didn't think they could be fair. One man said he simply didn't like Hispanic people. And one woman didn't think an illegal immigrant deserved the same legal rights as a U.S. citizen.

Not all of those excused expressed opinions on the case. Some said serving on a jury would mean too much time away from work or their families.

The 15 jurors will be back in court on Thursday morning to hear opening statements. Judge David Peterson said he expects the trial to last two weeks.

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