FARGO - For Linda Walker, the last four days have provided some of the toughest testimony that she and her family have heard related to the 2003 kidnapping and murder of her daughter, Dru Sjodin.
The evidentiary hearing in the death penalty appeal for Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., the man convicted and sentenced to death in 2006 in the case, has been filled with graphic descriptions from autopsy reports that have added to the family's anguish, Walker said Friday, Jan. 23.
"This hearing was far more difficult because of the details that were given out and how repetitious everything has been this last four days of how she was killed," Walker said.
"During the trial, really, none of that was hammered or driven so hard and so deeply. So, it's far more emotional and far more exhausting," Walker said.
The hearing started Tuesday, and over four days the defense presented a number of expert witnesses, including forensic pathologists and medical examiners, who testified in great detail about the condition of the body of Sjodin, a University of North Dakota student.
The attorneys from the Philadelphia-based Federal Community Defender Office have contended that testimony of stabbing and sexual assault may have influenced the jury in the death penalty phase of the trial.
Because the hearing before U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson is still ongoing - testimony from one of Rodriguez's lawyers must still be obtained, which could happen in September - both Victor Abreu of the defender's office and Assistant U.S. Attorney Keith Reisenauer said they could not comment on the case.
Sjodin's body was found in April 2004, with her hands tied behind her back, in a ravine near Crookston, Minn.
After being exposed to the elements for five months, Sjodin's body had suffered the effects of decomposition and animal depredation, defense experts said in their testimony.
Several experts refuted assertions made at Rodriguez's trial by Ramsey County, Minn., medical examiner Michael McGee, who said Sjodin had been slashed twice on the throat with a knife, and then again on her right side. The experts said this was possible but couldn't be scientifically proven because of significant tissue loss and no signs of the type of blood loss that could have led to her death.
There was significant discussion of a cord or rope that had been found around Sjodin's throat and the remains of a plastic bag that appeared to have been placed over her head, and what sort of role they might have played in her death. The experts generally agreed that her death was likely due to some form of asphyxiation. That assertion was further bolstered by a 2016 admission by Rodriguez that he had put pressure on Sjodin's neck with his hand or arm.
Trial testimony that a rape had occurred was also debated, with defense experts saying that a test done by McGee was only an indicator for semen, not definitive. The experts testified that other tests indicated no semen, sperm or male DNA was found.
Reisenauer pointed out at several times over the four days that all of the lab results had been presented at the trial. In addition, he said McGee had said asphyxiation by the use of the ligature, suffocation due to the bag over Sjodin's head, or exposure to the November cold and damp, could have also led to her death.
Reisenauer did not call any witnesses during this week's portion of the hearing.
Allan Sjodin, Dru's father, declined to talk after the hearing.
Walker said she and other family members keep going to all of the hearings, not just for Dru, but for "all of Alfonso's past victims, and to other voiceless and nameless victims that are out there. ... I truly feel that education is key, and we need to keep this to the national forefront of the violence against women, and children, and young adults."