Rodriguez sentenced to death

Alfonso Rodriguez Jr.
Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. has been sentenced to death for the kidnapping and death of Dru Sjodin, a college student from North Dakota who was disappeared in November 2003.
MPR file photo

Rodriguez looked straight ahead emotionless as the sentence was announced. His mother, Dolores, and sister, Ileanna Noyes, cried, as did a number of the jurors.

Rodriguez had previously been convicted of three sex crimes. That criminal history and the brutal nature of Dru Sjodin's death were factors prosecutors asked jurors to consider.

Dru Sjodin
Dru Sjodin, a student at the University of North Dakota, was abducted and killed in November 2003.
MPR file photo

U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley said the death penalty verdict was justice for Dru Sjdoin.

"The defendant's acts of the last three decades have brought us to this place at this time," said Wrigley.

Standing with the prosecutor was Linda Walker, Sjodin's mother. She acknowledged it wasn't an easy decision for jurors to make. Despite the verdict, Walker says there will always be a void in her life.

"I've searched for a long time. It's just insurmountable. I don't know how to put it into words," said Walker. "It's hard to go into public places and see other mothers with their daughters, sharing times together. I miss her every single day of my life."

Family and friends of Dru Sjodin wore her favorite color, pink, to court Friday.

Dru Sjodin's family and friends wore pink in her honor as Alfonso Rodriguez received the death sentence. L-R: Sjodin's boyfriend Chris Lang; mother Linda Walker; stepfather Sid Walker; father Allan Sjodin.
MPR Photo/Bob Reha

The jury reached its decision after more than a day and a half of deliberations. The same federal jury of seven women and five men convicted Rodriguez Aug. 30 on a charge of kidnapping resulting in Sjodin's death.

It was North Dakota's first death penalty case in more than a century. The state does not have the death penalty, but it is allowed in federal cases.

Allan Sjodin, Dru's father, said he could have accepted a sentence of life in prison for Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. What matters most for his family is that the trial is behind them.

"We've said all along we're here for one reason, and whatever would have happened would have been equally satisfied," Sjodin said. "I just felt all along that for Dru's sake, this needed to happen."

Allan Sjodin, left, listens as U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley speaks to reporters after the verdict.
MPR Photo/Bob Reha

The defense team that spent months preparing a case on behalf of Rodriguez was slow to respond publically. Some time after the courtroom had emptied, attorney Richard Ney spoke to reporters.

Ney says he was saddened by the verdict. Ney, who has a history of keeping clients off death row, says a death sentence is always a shock.

"It just seems difficult for us to grasp that justice is taking the life of a child of God," said Ney. "We're saddened also for the people of North Dakota, that they're joining states like Texas and Florida to think that solves the issues of crime in society."

Ney says the Rodriguez family is devastated by the verdict and asking for privacy. He plans to challenge the decision.

Defense attorney
Alfonso Rodriguez' defense attorney Richard Ney says he's saddened and disappointed by the death penalty verdict.
MPR Photo/Dan Gunderson

"We have a motion for a new trial to file. The judge will rule on that. If he denies it, then an appeal will be filed to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals," said Ney. "So the 8th Circuit would be the first step in the process, and it's a long involved process of appeals that will go from here."

Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. has become the 45th federal prisoner on death row in the United States. But it is unlikely his life will end anytime soon.

The jury's death sentence is likely the beginning of a new legal chapter that will play out over time. On average, appeals in federal death penalty cases can take up to 10 years.