Prosecutors drop appeal in Alfonso Rodriguez case, still plan to ask for death penalty
Rodriguez will undergo resentencing for the 2003 kidnapping and murder of UND student Dru Sjodin.
FARGO — As recently as March 3, federal prosecutors filed a notice to appeal a recent appeals court ruling that overturned Alfonso Rodriguez’s death sentence.
On Friday, March 25, papers were filed in court in which federal prosecutors and defense attorneys for Rodriguez agreed to dismiss the appeal.
Interim U.S. Attorney for North Dakota Nicholas Chase said Friday the case will now be scheduled for resentencing, as per an order issued by U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Ralph Erickson.
Chase said prosecutors will again seek the death penalty for Rodriguez at the time of resentencing.
Chase declined to comment further on the new developments.
It was unclear Friday when resentencing will happen.
A jury sentenced Rodriguez to death in 2007, but Erickson, acting as an appeals court judge, reversed the sentence. The judge, who also oversaw Rodriguez’s trial as a U.S. District judge, ruled the defendant’s trial attorneys were ineffective during the sentencing portion.
Prosecutors argued Rodriguez took Sjodin, a University of North Dakota student, from Columbia Mall in Grand Forks in November 2003, sexually assaulted her, marched her down a ravine near Crookston, Minnesota, and killed her. Sjodin’s body was found in the ravine in April 2004.
A Ramsey County medical examiner said Sjodin died from a slash to her throat. Defense experts contradicted that finding by saying she could have died from strangulation, while an autopsy said the cause of death was a wound to the neck, suffocation or exposure.
The medical examiner’s findings were based on speculation, Erickson said in his 232-page opinion filed in September. The defense should have done more to challenge that testimony, the judge wrote.
Erickson also determined a mental health evaluation could have missed a possible insanity defense and evidence that Rodriguez suffered from severe post-traumatic stress disorder.
Rodriguez’s appeal attorneys asked Erickson in October to alter his findings that an intellectual disability shouldn’t play a role in overturning the death penalty. Erickson struck down that challenge in January.
Erickson ordered another sentencing phase for Rodriguez. Federal prosecutors had the choice of proceeding with a second sentencing trial, allowing Rodriguez to serve a life sentence without further hearings or appealing Erickson’s ruling.
The latest court action resulted in a second sentencing being ordered.