Rodriguez's mother urges jury to spare son's lifeby Bob Reha, Minnesota Public Radio
Delores Rodriguez was the first witness called to testify in defense of her son. She was called as a witness in federal court to help spare her son from the death penalty for the killing of University of North Dakota student Dru Sjodin.
A federal jury is hearing testimony to decide if Alfonso Rodriguez Junior should be executed or serve life in prison without parole.
Fargo, N.D. — Delores Rodriguez described her son as a sickly child while growing up, suffering from headaches and a swollen head. The 72-year-old told jurors her family lived in the middle of a sugar beet field in a house with no running water or electricity.
Dolores Rodriguez described her son as "wonderful, kind, and loving." When cross-examined by U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley, she said she found out that as a teenager her son was abusing drugs and alcohol. That was about the time she said he complained of headaches.
Dolores Rodriguez said the family lived near Crookston and worked in sugar beet fields, sometimes on their hands and knees. She told jurors she worked even while pregnant with her children.
She also said that the crops were being sprayed with chemicals, both from planes and from machinery on the ground. Rodriguez would hang diapers and other clothes on the line and find them sticky from what she said was chemical residue. Defense attorneys have said Alfonso Rodriguez Junior suffers from mental and physical problems, factors they believe should help persuade jurors to spare his life.
Alfonso Rodriguez showed no emotion while his mother was on the witness stand.
U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley's cross-examination of Dolores Rodriguez was interrupted several times by objections from Defense attorney Richard Ney. When Wrigley tried to ask her about the night Sjodin disappeared, U.S. Judge Ralph Erickson upheld Ney's objection. The judge said,You could have subpoenaed this witness. You chose not to.
Dolores Rodriguez testified her son, whom she called "Tito," lived with her in Crookston after he was released from prison in 2003. She told how he helped her with household chores. Asked by defense attorney Richard Ney if she still considered her son an important part of her life, she answered, "yes, I do."
Delores Rodriguez was followed by defense experts who say her son has signs of brain damage that could be the result of exposure to farm chemicals. Psychologist Karen Froming testified she administered tests on two separate occasions while Alfonso Rodriguez was being held in the Cass County Jail. Froming says he performed poorly on vision and smell tests which could indicate exposure to toxins.
Under questions from prosecutors, Froming said the test results could be affected by the stress of being in prison or facing criminal charges. She said her findings are not definitive.
- Morning Edition, 09/13/2006, 6:54 a.m.