Visit raises rights issues
Shortly after police arrested Alfonso Rodriguez Jr.
Shortly after police arrested Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. in connection with Dru Sjodin's disappearance, his sister offered to help police find the missing woman.
Lawyers for Rodriguez say the jailhouse visit between Rodriguez and Illeana Noyes that followed her offer violated his rights because detectives secretly recorded it without his knowledge, although he had already invoked his right to legal counsel.
Two detectives testified in Fargo's federal court Wednesday that the meeting - two days after his arrest and immediately following a Polk County court appearance on a fugitive warrant - was Noyes's idea and she agreed to allow the conversation to be taped.
Rodriguez, 52, of Crookston, Minn., faces a federal charge of kidnapping resulting in death. If convicted, he could be sentenced by a jury to death.
Sjodin went missing from a Grand Forks, N.D., mall parking lot Nov. 22, 2003. Her body was found in a ravine near Crookston about five months later after several large-scale searches in North Dakota and Minnesota.
Rodriguez, a twice-convicted sex offender in Minnesota, was released from prison six months before Sjodin's disappearance.
Court-appointed attorneys Richard Ney of Wichita, Kan., and Robert Hoy of West Fargo have asked Judge Ralph Erickson to prevent prosecutors from presenting information about the meeting to jurors when the trial starts in July.
They and federal prosecutors argued six other motions filed in the case Wednesday and will continue today. All of the motions, primarily on procedures to be used in Rodriguez's trial, are sealed.
"She mentioned several times she wanted to help with the investigation any way she could," said Orie Senechal, a Grand Forks police detective who talked to Noyes at her home Dec. 2 and 3, 2003.
The second visit came during a search of her 80-acre property northwest of Crookston. Rodriguez occasionally visited his sister there and went into the woods to smoke cigarettes. Noyes told detectives she thought she could persuade her brother to say where Sjodin was, Senechal said.
During the visit, Noyes, 45, told the detective she was denied visitation with her brother at the jail the previous night, Senechal said.
The detective said she placed a call to arrange a meeting and then drove Noyes to the Tri-County Correctional Center in Crookston.
Senechal said she didn't instruct or coach Noyes during the drive on how to question Rodriguez. At the corrections center, former Polk County Sheriff's Detective Daniel Malinowski arranged for Noyes to talk with Rodriguez in a private room.
Malinowski said he set a tape recorder on a file cabinet in the room, with a folder placed on top to conceal it. He then told Noyes to holler if she needed help.
After the 15-minute meeting, Noyes told Malinowski that her brother didn't tell her anything useful to find Sjodin, Malinowski said.
Hoy told the judge that Noyes acted on behalf of police.
"Law enforcement simply used her as their surrogate because she wanted to help," Hoy said. "If they simply wanted her to talk to her brother, they wouldn't have put a recorder in the room."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Norm Anderson argued detectives didn't direct Noyes what to say during the meeting.
"Just because law enforcement's interest coincides with hers, doesn't mean she was a government agent," he said.
Ney asked Judge Erickson to map out how prosecutors can use expert witnesses, victim impact statements and Rodriguez's prior criminal convictions during the death penalty phase of the trial.
The judge said lawyers were arguing about issues they didn't detail in their written briefs.
"I'm being asked to take a shot in the dark," Erickson said. "I feel like I'm being invited to err."
He told prosecutors and defense attorneys to provide more detailed citations in their briefs. He also said lawyers should plan to meet at least once a month starting in February to address pretrial issues.
In an earlier ruling, Erickson gave prosecutors until Feb. 1 to complete forensic testing.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Steven P. Wagner at (701) 241-5542