Evidence challenged in Dru Sjodin killer's death penalty appeal

Alfonso Rodriguez Jr.
Alfonso Rodriguez Jr.
MPR file

Attorneys hoping to overturn the death sentence of a Minnesota man are challenging forensic evidence at a hearing in Fargo this week.

Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. was sentenced to death in 2007 for killing Dru Sjodin, a 22-year-old University of North Dakota student from Pequot Lakes, Minn.

Rodriguez was found guilty of abducting Sjodin from a Grand Forks, N.D. shopping mall parking lot in Nov. 2003, killing her and disposing of her body in a field near Crookston, Minn, where it was found five months later.

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

Attention turned to Rodriguez almost immediately after the disappearance. He was a convicted sex offender who had been released from prison several months earlier, and he gave misleading statements to investigators.

Because the crime crossed state lines, Rodriguez was tried in federal court, which opened the door to the death penalty sentence he ultimately received. It was the first time in more than a century the death penalty had been deliberated in North Dakota.

Attorneys for Rodriguez are now trying to raise doubt about forensic testimony that they say contributed the sentence he received. They say evidence of sexual assault and testimony that Sjodin's neck was slashed by a knife influenced the jury in the death penalty phase of the trial.

The evidentiary hearing may last seven days. The hearing is scheduled to resume in December when attorneys will argue Rodriguez should not have been sentenced to death because of limited mental capacity.

Rodriguez waived his right to appear at the hearing. He's currently on death row in an Indiana federal prison.