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Judge: Rodriguez's rights were violated

Law enforcement violated Alfonso Rodriguez Jr.'s right to counsel when setting up a meeting between him and his sister, a federal judge ruled Monday.

Alfonso Rodriguez, Jr.

Law enforcement violated Alfonso Rodriguez Jr.'s right to counsel when setting up a meeting between him and his sister, a federal judge ruled Monday.

Because of this, prosecutors won't be able to use conversation between the two as evidence when Rodriguez's trial begins July 6 in Fargo.

Rodriguez, 52, could face the death penalty if convicted for the kidnapping resulting in Dru Sjodin's death more than two years ago.

U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson issued the six-page ruling five days after listening to testimony and attorneys debated the issue.

"The court has obviously seen what happened the way we did," said Robert Hoy, one of two court-appointed lawyers for Rodriguez. "I'm not surprised by the court's ruling, and I think it's appropriate."


The judge ruled police violated Rodriguez's Sixth Amendment right to counsel by setting up a meeting with Illeana Noyes, his younger sister. Rodriguez had already declined talking to police without a lawyer present.

"Law enforcement knew that she was going to elicit Dru's location from Rodriguez," Erickson wrote. "In this case, Noyes went beyond merely listening by attempting to elicit incriminating statements."

U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley said the conversation between brother and sister didn't include a confession and the decision won't hamper prosecution of Rodriguez.

"It doesn't change a single thing that we intend to show at trial," Wrigley said.

During a hearing Wednesday, Grand Forks police Detective Orie Senechal said Rodriguez's sister, Illeana Noyes, offered to help police find Sjodin.

She disappeared from a Grand Forks, N.D., parking lot after work Nov. 22, 2003. Rodriguez was arrested Dec. 1, 2003, and he was charged the following day with kidnapping.

Senechal and former Polk County Deputy Daniel Malinowski set up the meeting between Rodriguez and Noyes after he appeared in court Dec. 3, 2003.

During a search of her home the same day, Noyes told Senechal that she had been denied visitation with her brother. Malinowski arranged to have Rodriguez meet Noyes inside a conference room during a time outside of normal visitation hours.


In the room, the deputy hid a recorder by placing it under papers on a file cabinet. Afterward, Noyes told authorities Rodriguez didn't provide information on where Sjodin could be found.

Searchers found Sjodin's body in a ravine April 17, 2004, near Rodriguez's hometown of Crookston, Minn.

"It was only with the intervention of law enforcement that she was able to meet with her brother," wrote Erickson, stating she acted as an agent for police. "All of this happened only after Noyes told law enforcement that she wanted to help, and she told that she could get Rodriguez to tell her where Dru was.

"Noyes' purpose in talking with her brother was to elicit information about Dru's location, which would be incriminating information."

Defense lawyers also asked that conversations with police after Rodriguez's arrest not be allowed at trial. Since prosecutors don't intend to use the conversations to convict him, Erickson also ruled to suppress those discussions.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Steven P. Wagner at (701) 241-5542

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