Death sentence for Alfonso Rodriguez, who killed Dru Sjodin, changed to life in prison
Prosecutors said a hearing would serve no purpose since the only possible punishment left after the death penalty was overturned was life in prison.
FARGO — The death sentence for a man who kidnapped and killed Dru Sjodin 20 years ago has been changed to life in prison.
Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Ralph Erickson signed the sentence amendment for 70-year-old Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. on Thursday, May 18. The signature ends decades of court proceedings in connection to the 2003 death of Sjodin.
As of Tuesday, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons had Rodriguez classified as a death row inmate at a maximum security penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana. It’s unclear when Rodriguez will be moved off death row and where he will serve the remainder of his sentence.
"Per Bureau of Prisons (BOP) policy specific designation information, including location and timing, is not releasable until after an individual arrives at his or her destination," BOP spokesman Benjamin O'Cone said in an email to The Forum.
A jury had sentenced Rodriguez in 2007 to death for kidnapping Sjodin on Nov. 22, 2003, from Columbia Mall in Grand Forks. Rodriguez sexually assaulted the University of North Dakota student before marching her down a ravine near Crookston, Minnesota, according to prosecutors.
He then slashed the 22-year-old’s throat and left her for dead in the snow. Her body was found five months later.
Erickson, who oversaw the jury trial and sentencing hearing when he was a U.S. judge in North Dakota, overturned the death penalty for Rodriguez in September 2021. The circuit judge said defense attorneys should have done more to challenge a medical examiner’s findings on Sjodin’s death and explore Rodriguez’s mental health problems that could have mitigated the death sentence.
In March, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland withdrew authorization for federal prosecutors to seek capital punishment in the case. Rodriguez’s current attorneys and North Dakota U.S. Attorney Mac Schneider agreed last week to amend the sentence without a hearing.
"Speaking for our office, I will say that a hearing would serve no purpose because the only possible legal outcome is a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole," Schneider said in an email to The Forum.