Glitch suspends jury selection in Rodriguez trial
Fargo, N.D. — (AP) - Jury selection was suspended Thursday in the case of a convicted sex offender accused in the death of University of North Dakota student Dru Sjodin, because of a computer problem.
U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson said the computer produced a list of potential jurors that was not random. Fifteen who showed up Thursday were all from the Valley City area.
Erickson said that was a violation of court rules. He suspended jury selection until Friday, so the problem could be fixed.
"I'm sorry. I apologize for it. I apologize it wasn't caught earlier," the judge said.
Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., 53, of Crookston, Minn., has pleaded not guilty to a charge of kidnapping resulting in the death of Sjodin. The 22-year-old student from Pequot Lakes, Minn., disappeared from a Grand Forks shopping mall parking lot in November 2003. Her body was found the following April in a ravine near Crookston.
Sjodin's mother, Linda Walker; her father, Allan Sjodin, and Bob Heales, a family friend who led searches for their daughter, arrived at the federal courthouse in Fargo shortly before jury selection was to start at 9 a.m.
Allan Sjodin said he would reserve comment, but when asked for one word to describe the scene, he replied, "tension."
Court officials have said jury selection could take the rest of the month. Twelve jurors and four alternates are to be chosen from a pool of about 70 people, with 15 potential jurors interviewed each day.
Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty if Rodriguez is convicted.
A day before jury selection started, attorneys argued over evidence.
Defense attorney Robert Hoy asked U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson to exclude as evidence some items found during a search of Rodriguez's car.
Hoy said Wednesday the search warrant allowed investigators to look for 11 specific items, but some evidence gathered by police went beyond the scope of the warrant.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Norman Anderson said the warrant allowed investigators to bring Rodriguez's car to a crime lab so experts could conduct a "thorough and detailed" search.
Defense attorneys also sought to exclude testimony from Sjodin's family and friends on the impact of her death. Richard Ney, a death penalty lawyer, said witnesses are not allowed to give their opinions on a possible sentence for the defendant.
"It's not evidence that relates to the offense or the offender," Ney said.
Erickson did not rule on the motion, but he asked prosecutors to review the documents. The judge said he might take out "my little blue pencil" and edit the statements himself.
Defense attorneys also are trying to keep a video analyst from testifying at Rodriguez's trial. Hoy said Craig Thrane is expected to compare a video taken of Rodriguez at the Grand Forks Target store on the day Sjodin disappeared to one of a "shadowy figure" taken at Columbia Mall later that day.
"It's misleading," Hoy said. Thrane cannot identify the sex or the race of the person in the Columbia Mall video, he said.
U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley said two videos show "similarities, and no dissimilarities" to Rodriguez. He said defense attorneys can make their objections during the trial.
Erickson said he would rule later on most of the motions made Wednesday. The judge set a separate hearing to hear arguments about evidence from Sjodin's autopsy.
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)