Dru Sjodin's killer fights death penalty

It’s been more than 13 years since Dru Sjodin was kidnapped and murdered by Alfonso Rodriguez, Jr., a convicted sex offender. While a federal jury sentenced Rodriguez to death more than a decade ago, the case remains active today.

In 2003, Sjodin, a 22-year-old college student at the University of North Dakota, was kidnapped from a mall parking lot in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Her body was found months later in Crookston, Minnesota. Rodriguez, a sexual offender, was arrested. Because the crime crossed state lines, prosecutors were able to charge Rodriguez under federal laws — making his trial the first federal death penalty case in North Dakota.

In 2007, a federal appeals court upheld Rodriguez’s death penalty and conviction. In 2011, new lawyers filed an appeal — arguing Rodriguez was “denied effective assistance of counsel,” the trial featured “junk science and false forensics,” and that Rodriguez is “mentally retarded.”

On Dec. 28, prosecutors filed a motion to interview Rodriguez’s trial lawyer under oath due to the claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. The current appeal is almost certainly Rodriguez’s last shot at avoiding the death penalty.

“This comes to no surprise to us at all,” Linda Walker, the mother of Dru Sjodin, told Fox 9. “I think a lot of people don’t understand that when people are on death row, they have only one hour a day outside their confinement…So he really honestly has to sit and think about what’s done, day in and day out.”

It’s difficult to estimate how much longer the case may last. On average, condemned inmates spend nearly 16 years on death row before they are executed. However, the statistics are based on state death row inmates, not federal. Federally, only three people have been executed since the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988.

Condemned inmates are entitled to an automatic appeal, and another at their request.