Rodriguez guilty in Sjodin caseby Bob Reha, Minnesota Public Radio
A federal jury Wednesday found convicted sex offender Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. guilty in the kidnapping and killing of college student Dru Sjodin.
Fargo, N.D. — Sjodin, 22, was abducted from the parking lot of a Grand Forks shopping mall on Nov. 22, 2003. Searchers discovered her body the following April in a ravine near Crookston. Rodriguez lived in Crookston at the time.
Wednesday's verdict launches the second part of the trial, where the jury will consider whether Rodriguez is eligible for the death penalty. It's the first time the death penalty is deliberated in North Dakota in more than a century.
Jurors took less than four hours to return the guilty verdict. As the jury of seven women and five men filed in, Rodriguez sat with his chin on his hands staring straight ahead. He showed no emotion as the verdict was read. His mother and sister sat a few feet behind him, weeping.
U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley turned to Sjodin's parents, Linda Walker and Allan Sjodin, and nodded. They also showed little emotion in court.
Family members hugged later outside the courtroom. Linda Walker spoke briefly to reporters as she left the courthouse.
"We're just going to refrain from making any comments until the whole process is completed. We appreciate all your support and continued support. Thanks so much," said Walker.
U.S. attorney Drew Wrigley left the courtroom through a side door and did not comment.
"Since the judge's order is still in effect, I'm not commenting until the end of the proceedings," he said in a statement, referring to an order by U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson barring participants in the case from giving their opinions.
The guilty verdict does not end the trial. Jurors must now decide whether Rodriguez should face the death penalty.
This process involves several stages. When the jury reconvenes Tuesday, Federal District Judge Ralph Erickson will instruct jurors on the federal kidnapping law.
Jurors will then decide if the case is eligible for the death penalty. If the jury decides the case meets the federal guidelines, attorneys will argue for or against the death penalty.
If jurors decide the case doesn't meet federal standards, Rodriguez will be sentenced to life in prison with no chance for parole.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty issued a statement saying that "if ever there was a case for which the death penalty should apply, this is it."
"While a swift guilty verdict provides some closure, our thoughts and prayers are with Dru's family and friends who continue to deal with her loss each day," the governor's statement said.
At the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, Sjodin was on students' minds Wednesday even though many of them were freshmen when she disappeared and did not know her well, said Erin Hakstol, Sjodin's sorority adviser.
"It's another step in closing the case," Hakstol said of the verdict. "It doesn't bring Dru back, unfortunately. Obviously, we've been thinking a lot about Dru's family."
"I just hope the next phase goes as quickly as the last one did," Hakstol said.
Jordan Scheutzle, a UND law student who was the school's student body president when Sjodin disappeared, called the guilty verdict the most important part of the case.
"No matter what happens now, he's going to pay for this horrible crime," Scheutzle said. "I'm just glad that justice was served."
Judge Erickson is to meet with attorneys in the case Thursday morning to discuss admissibility of evidence in the next phases of the trial. One issue will be pictures that prosecutors want the jury to see. They'll also discuss witnesses the prosecution wants to call.
It's not clear how long much longer the trial will last. Some observers say if the jury decides Rodriguez should face the death penalty, it could be mid-September before the proceedings wrap up. (The Associated Press contributed to this report)