Rodriguez is on trial for kidnapping and killing Dru Sjodin, a 22-year-old college student, in 2003. If convicted, Rodriguez could face the death penalty. This is the first time a federal death penalty case has been tried in North Dakota.
U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson ruled attorneys would use their peremptory challenges to reduce jury numbers in closed court. Erickson took the action so jury members will remain anonymous until court resumes on Monday.
Judge Erickson wants to limit the possibility that jury members would be influenced by people outside the court. He told lawyers if there is any indication of tampering of any kind he will sequester the jury. Erickson says he will do whatever is necessary to maintain the integrity of the trial.
Erickson says the jury in a death penalty case carries an extra burden. Usually when a jury returns a verdict their job is done. But in a death penalty case, the jury would also decide the punishment. Erickson says that makes it necessary to take extra precautions.
It's been more than a month since jury selection began. Potential jurors were questioned about their views on the death penalty, and if they had already decided if defendant Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. was guilty.
The questioning sometimes led to heated exchanges between U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley and defense lawyer Richard Ney.
Twice, Ney filed motions asking the judge to move the trial, but Erickson denied them both. There seemed to be less tension in the courtroom Thursday. Both attorneys were smiling, they seemed to be at ease, and ready for the trial to move to the next phase.
Nearly every day for the past month, Dru Sjodin's parents have sat in the courtroom. Sjodin's mother, Linda Walker, has said that it's tough sometimes, but it's nothing compared to what her daughter went through.
The man charged with kidnapping and killing Sjodin sits just a few feet away.
Alfonso Rodriguez has spent most of his time in the courtroom sitting at the defense table. It's rare for Rodriguez to show any emotion. He usually thumbs through some papers on his attorney's table. Ocassionally he will glance around the courtroom.
Opening statements in the trial are expected to begin Monday.