Fed Halts Death Penalty Sentence For Minnesota Man Convicted In Dru Sjodin Kidnapping + Murder
A twenty year old kidnapping and murder case is still an open source of pain for friends, family, and communities in the Dru Sjodin kidnapping and murder case. The case is back in the news again following U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland's decision to not seek the death penalty in the re-opened case.
With the decision, the Minnesota man convicted in the 2003 case - Alfonso Rodriguez, Jr. - will instead spend the rest of his life in federal prison, serving his sentenced time for the case that occurred North Dakota near the Minnesota border.
Sjodin - a Pequot Lakes native - was a student at the University of North Dakota, when she went missing following a work shift on November 22, 2003. A week-long investigation eventually led to the arrest of Rodriguez, Jr. in connection with her disappearance.
The investigation continued throughout the Winter of 2003-2004. Details of Rodriguez's past criminal history came out - including a 23-year prison term for kidnapping and rape. He also had a lengthy list of "repeated sexual assaults against women". At the time of his arrest, he was released and registered as a Level 3 sex offender, "which meant he was highly likely to reoffend".
Sjodin's body was eventually found on April 17, 2004 near Crookston, Minnesota as the winter snow began to melt. Authorities connected Crookston as the town where Rodriguez's mother lived at the time.
Rodriguez finally admitted his role in Sjodin's kidnapping and rape many years later in a death row interview in 2013.
Federal charges were sought for sought for Rodriguez due to the state lines that were crossed in the case - between North Dakota and Minnesota.
Since that time, Rodriguez was serving his sentence on death row, waiting for his penalty. However, a judge overturned the sentence in 2021, citing "misleading testimony from a medical examiner and limitations on mental health evidence". That overturn meant that Rodriguez needed to enter a new sentencing phase of his case.
Originally, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland had sought a new death sentence for Rodriguez. That's why the change of course caught many off guard. Garland has not issued a statement on why he changed his mind.
North Dakota District U.S. Attorney Mac Schneider did issue a statement:
"My thoughts today are with Dru Sjodin's family, particularly her parents, Linda Walker and Allan Sjodin. They are genuinely good people and loving parents who in the wake of an unimaginable loss have worked closely with our office for nearly twenty years. We continue to wish them the greatest measure of peace possible."
Even though the death penalty avenue has been changed, Rodriguez will continue to reside in federal prison for the rest of his life.