Student's killer sentenced to death

September 24, 2006|By McClatchy Tribune

FARGO, N.D. -- A federal jury announced Friday its unanimous decision that Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. should be sentenced to death by lethal injection for the Nov. 22, 2003, kidnapping and killing of University of North Dakota senior Dru Sjodin, a 22-year-old from Pequot Lakes, Minn.

Rodriguez, 53, who has spent 31 of the past 32 years behind bars for attacks on women, showed no reaction to the sentencing decision as it was read aloud in court. His attorneys said they will ask for a new trial and appeal if denied.

The seven women and five men made history with their decision. It will be the first federal death sentence in the history of North Dakota, which hasn't had a state death penalty option for decades, and the first death sentence handed down in the state in more than a century.

As the "special finding" on sentence selection was read aloud Friday in court, juror Bertha Pickell, a retired teacher from Oakes, N.D., labored to control her emotions, her face quivering. Finally, tears fell. Other jurors, too, cried, some bowing their heads.

"I think we all had emotions about it," Pickell said Friday evening from her home. "We were thinking and feeling what each family is experiencing, what they are both going through. I think they both were going through very difficult times."

U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley praised the jury, and his prosecution team, especially Assistant U.S. Attorneys Keith Reisenauer and Norman Anderson. "In the end, we believe this is justice," Wrigley said.

Defense attorney Richard Ney said he was shocked and disappointed at the decision. "Life is worthy of being saved, no matter who." He expressed sympathy for Sjodin's family, but said now another family will suffer by "the execution of their son and their brother."

U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson scheduled Rodriguez's official sentencing for Jan. 5 in federal court.

Under the federal death penalty law, Erickson is required to impose the sentence decided on by the jury.

Robert Hoy, a West Fargo attorney appointed to defend Rodriguez, said he would remain involved in the case at least through the sentencing hearing, but said it hadn't been determined whether he would continue in any possible appeal.

Court officials said they believe Rodriguez will remain in the Cass County Jail in Fargo until sentencing. Federal prison officials then would determine where to place him in the federal prison system pending appeals. Federal death penalty appeals generally take six to eight years. The only federal facility where death by lethal injection is carried out is Terre Haute, Ind.

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