Jury selection begins in Rodriguez trialby Bob Reha, Minnesota Public Radio
Jury selection begins Thursday in the trial of Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. Rodriguez, a convicted sex offender from Crookston, Minnesota, is charged with kidnapping resulting in the death of University of North Dakota student Dru Sjodin in November 2003. He has pleaded not guilty. If convicted he could face the death penalty.
Fargo, N.D. — Alfonso Rodriguez was arrested shortly after Dru Sjodin disappeared in November 2003 from a Grand Forks shopping mall.
Five months later, Sjodin's body was found in a ravine near Crookston, Minnesota. More than two years later, the case led to major revision of sex offender laws in Minnesota and North Dakota. It's also led to North Dakota's first federal death penalty case.
For months, lawyers have argued various points regarding evidence, testimony and whether Rodriguez could get a fair trial in Fargo.
Defense lawyers surveyed potential jurors in eastern North Dakota. The survey found 88.8 percent of those asked believed Rodriguez was guilty, and 53 percent thought he should get the death penalty.
Richard Ney, one of Rodriguez's court-appointed attorneys, voiced his concerns earlier this year.
"It raises questions in this case about how we can go about getting a fair and impartial jury if nine out of 10 people in this community have already made up their minds," Ney said in May.
Despite the defense's objections, Judge Ralph Erickson denied motions to move the trial out of Fargo. He also issued a gag order in the case, limiting what lawyers and family members could say to the media.
Now the trial moves into the jury selection process. The judge will interview 15 potential jurors each day until a jury is picked. Both prosecution and defense attorneys can object to individuals being placed on the jury.
Retired U.S. Attorney Gary Annear says prosecutors trying the case are looking for specific kinds of people.
"Somebody fairly intelligent. If there is a lot of scientific information, you want someone with a college education," says Annear. "Maybe somebody with experience with computers so he's above the average."
Annear says defense lawyers, too, will have a preferred type of person they want on the jury.
"What you would try to do in a case like this is maybe finding minorities, where they may have sympathies toward other minorities," says Annear.
Gender could also play a role in the selection. Annear believes this is especially true for the defense lawyers.
"I would tend to shy away from women," says Annear. "Especially older women, who can kind of relate to the victim in this case and her family."
Annear thinks defense lawyers have one advantage in selecting the jury. The judge has given the defense an extra 10 challenges. Annear says that means if the Rodriguez team believes a potential juror can't hear the case fairly, it can ask that the juror be dismissed.
It's not clear how long it will take to select a jury, court observers estimate it could be two or three weeks.
- Morning Edition, 07/06/2006, 7:20 a.m.