Illegal immigrant convicted in causing crash deported in 2016

Lawyer unsuccessfully argued Franco was not driving

MPR photo Olga Marina Franco del Cid was convicted of four counts of criminal vehicular homicide and sentenced to state prison. She was released from prison and deported from the U.S. in 2016.

The sentence handed down by a district court judge was for 12 and a half years. But a little more than eight years after the Lakeview bus crash, the woman convicted of four counts of criminal vehicular homicide was out of state prison.

Olga Marina Franco del Cid, then 32, was released from the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Shakopee on April 26, 2016, the Minnesota Department of Corrections said.

Although the Department of Corrections said she had completed her sentence, Franco del Cid wasn’t free to remain in Minnesota. When she was found pinned inside the minivan that struck a school bus, killing four Lakeview students, Franco del Cid was in the U.S. illegally. When she was released from prison, she was released to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Department of Corrections said.

Franco was deported from the U.S. in May 2016, an ICE spokesperson said.

It was the end of a span of years that included a high-profile court trial, a failed appeal, and controversy. In court, Franco del Cid and her attorneys maintained it was her then-boyfriend, and not her, who was driving the maroon Plymouth Voyager that ran a stop sign on Lyon County Road 24, and struck the school bus.

Jurors in Franco del Cid’s trial came to a different conclusion, however, and returned guilty verdicts for 24 charges, including four counts of criminal vehicular homicide in the deaths of Hunter and Jesse Javens, Emilee Olson and Reed Stevens.

After the collision with the school bus, Franco del Cid was among the people taken from the scene with injuries. Minnesota court documents said she was pinned in the front seat of the minivan, and received injuries including a broken leg and ankle, which required orthopedic surgery. She originally gave her name as Alianiss Nunez Morales.

A few days after the crash, ICE officials said “Alianiss Nunez Morales” was a stolen identity, and Franco del Cid had come to the U.S. illegally from Guatemala.

Franco del Cid was charged with four counts of criminal vehicular homicide, 17 counts of criminal vehicular injury, failure to stop at a stop sign, not having a valid driver’s license and providing a false name and date of birth to a police officer.

The trial began in late July 2008, after being moved from Marshall to the Kandiyohi County courthouse in Willmar.

During the trial, the defense argued that Franco del Cid’s then-boyfriend, Francisco Sangabriel Mendoza, was really driving the minivan that hit the school bus, and that the crash threw her toward the driver’s seat.

Mendoza fled after the crash.

Trial testimony included witness accounts that differed on whether or not Franco del Cid was driving the minivan.

Ultimately, the jury found Franco del Cid guilty of all charges against her. In October 2008, she was sentenced to 12 1/2 years in prison.

The sentence wasn’t the end for Franco del Cid’s legal interactions, however. In 2009, Franco del Cid and her attorney filed to appeal her conviction. The appeal made several arguments that the conviction should be overturned, including that the evidence against Franco del Cid was insufficient; that a statement she made to State Patrol officers while in the hospital wasn’t admissible in court; and that there were errors in the jury instructions given in her trial.

In July 2010, the appeal was denied by a panel of three judges from the Minnesota Court of Appeals, court records said. In the judges’ written opinion, Judge Francis Connolly said there was sufficient evidence to allow the jury to find Franco del Cid guilty, and that statements Franco del Cid made in the hospital were voluntary.

Franco del Cid was interviewed by two State Patrol officers while she was in the hospital after the crash, court documents said. At trial, one trooper testified that Franco del Cid said she was driving the minivan, which belonged to Mendoza.

In the judges’ opinion, Connolly wrote that witnesses for the prosecution and the defense gave conflicting testimony at Franco del Cid’s trial, but that choosing which evidence to believe was “precisely the type of determination that is reserved for the jury.” The opinion also found that Franco del Cid’s statements to the State Patrol were given voluntarily.

Franco del Cid also married while she was serving her prison sentence in Shakopee.

In 2009, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported that Franco del Cid married a St. Paul man, Jerome Harvieux, who had been writing to her.

The Pioneer Press reported that Franco del Cid’s marriage didn’t necessarily mean she could stay in the country — she would still go through a deportation hearing either during her sentence, or after it was complete.

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