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Kidnap killing details emerge

After being abducted at knifepoint, Dru Sjodin underwent several hours of physical and emotional abuse and was injured "gravely" at least twice, U.S.

After being abducted at knifepoint, Dru Sjodin underwent several hours of physical and emotional abuse and was injured "gravely" at least twice, U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley said Thursday.

But defense attorneys for Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., charged with the kidnapping resulting in Sjodin's death two years ago, argue that she may have been unconscious within minutes of the abduction.

For a second consecutive day, prosecutors and Rodriguez's court-appointed lawyers Thursday disagreed on nearly every element of the case, including the wording of the criminal indictment and procedures to be used when the trial begins July 6 in Fargo's U.S. District Court.

Rodriguez, 52, of Crookston, Minn., has pleaded not guilty. If convicted, he faces either the death penalty or life in prison without parole. Most arguments in the twice-convicted sex offender's case have focused on interpretations in capital cases elsewhere and definitions of law used to pursue the death penalty.

Nearly all motions and documents in the case have been sealed by Judge Ralph Erickson, but Thursday's hearing brought out new details of Sjodin's death.


Prosecutors said they plan to prove to jurors that Rodriguez immediately injured Sjodin so she couldn't resist during the abduction and then he assaulted her "gratuitously" for hours.

In the government's indictment, Rodriguez is accused of torture and killing Sjodin in a "heinous, cruel and depraved" manner after substantial planning and premeditation.

Attorney Richard Ney of Wichita, Kan., appointed to the case because he is certified to defend people facing the death penalty, asked the judge to strike much of language because it is vague, overbroad or insufficient to support factors favoring a death penalty sentence.

Ney argued Congress hasn't defined heinous or depraved and left it up to courts to make it fit within the Constitution.

He also said the law doesn't apply in Sjodin's death because "she was unconscious shortly after her abduction." A person must be conscious and suffering mental or physical pain for torture to occur, Ney said.

But the government has provided Rodriguez's attorneys with the evidence prosecutors plan to use to convict him, Wrigley said.

"This isn't anybody's first rodeo," he said. The defense, Wrigley said, needs to look at the evidence before saying it is insufficient to support the death penalty charge.

"They want our team of lawyers to be their legal assistance," he said.


More than 17,000 pages of evidentiary documents have been compiled in the case. With forensic results due by Feb. 1, more paperwork will be shared between the two sides.

Erickson renewed his concern over making decisions about permitting evidence into the trial.

"It's hard for me to determine the sufficiency or insufficiency of the evidence when I haven't seen it," he said. "At this point, what I have is an outline of what the government has."

Lawyers debated 10 defense motions during the two-day hearing. The judge will rule on the motions later. For one motion, Erickson said he wanted a hearing to determine the reliability of expert testimony to support claims about dangers Rodriguez poses in the future.

Ney argued the government also plans to use Rodriguez's prior convictions three times to support factors - including future dangerousness - for a death sentence. Rodriguez, who has been incarcerated for all but six months in the past 25 years, was a model prisoner, Ney said.

If a jury convicts Rodriguez, he doesn't pose a danger in the prison structure, he said.

"To say he is a model prisoner, I don't understand what that means," Wrigley said.

It's also difficult to predict what Rodriguez would do if he were sentenced to life in prison because he's shown a history of escalated violence, the prosecutor said.


At least six more dates are scheduled between February and June 3 to hear pretrial issues. Sjodin's parents, Allan Sjodin and Linda Walker, attended both days of this week's hearing.

Allan Sjodin said they plan to attend all of the hearings. "We will stay every day if we have to," he said after Wednesday's session.

"For us to go through this is nothing compared to what Dru went through," Walker said.

Rodriguez's sister, Illeana Noyes, and mother, Delores Rodriguez, listened to debate Wednesday. Both declined to comment.

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

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