Jury deciding Rodriguez' fate
Fargo, N.D. — (AP) - Jurors adjourned for the day Wednesday without reaching a decision on whether convicted sex offender Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. should be sentenced to death for the killing of college student Dru Sjodin.
The jury of seven women and five men got the case about 12:30 p.m., after hearing a prosecutor's plea for justice and a defense attorney's plea for mercy. They left 3½ hours later without reaching a decision.
If they do not unanimously agree on a sentence of death, Rodriguez will get life in prison without parole.
Rodriguez, 53, of Crookston, Minn., was convicted by the same jury Aug. 30 of kidnapping resulting of the death of Sjodin, 22, of Pequot Lakes, Minn.
In his closing argument, near a portrait of Sjodin, U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley told jurors that "justice is a penalty of death" for the man who abducted the college student from a parking lot and killed her.
Defense attorney Richard Ney said he was not trying to excuse or explain the crime. "The issue here is bigger than that," he said.
Rodriguez's attorneys have said he suffered from abuse, racism and may have had brain damage from exposure to chemicals as a child. Ney told jurors Wednesday that Rodriguez had showed he was trying to be a better person.
"Mercy. It doesn't seem that out of line, does it, for that kind of person?" he asked.
Sjodin disappeared from a Grand Forks mall parking lot in November 2003. Her body was found the following April in a ravine near Crookston. Officials said she had been beaten, raped and stabbed.
Wrigley said Rodriguez marched Sjodin to a ravine and slashed her throat.
"She was shivering, she was cold, she was scared," Wrigley said.
Sjodin would have turned 25 years old next Tuesday, Wrigley said, and asked the jury, "What will you do about it?"
Several jurors cried when Sjodin's portrait was displayed midway through Wrigley's closing speech. Others looked at the floor. Rodriguez's mother, Dolores, cried during both statements. Members of the Sjodin family exchanged hugs during court breaks.
Defense attorneys were allowed to list 30 factors they believe favor a life sentence, including Rodriguez's offer in March to plead guilty and waive all rights to appeal. The plea was rejected by the government.
Wrigley disputed the defense claim that Rodriguez was accepting responsibility for his actions with the plea offer. He said Rodriguez was trying to "cut his losses" in the face of the evidence.
Over objections from Ney, Wrigley said the question was not how the case affects Rodriguez's family.
"His choices have brought them here to this case," Wrigley said.
Rodriguez was released from prison in May 2003 after serving 23 years for assault and attempted kidnapping. He attacked a woman while he was leave from the Minnesota state security hospital, after he was convicted in 1975 for two separate assaults on other women.
Ney told jurors that if they choose the death penalty, "you will kill the person who murdered Dru Sjodin. You will also kill the man who took care of his mother."
Later, he pointed to a photo of Rodriguez taken when he was 4 years old, the age when, his sister testified, he had been molested.
"You're going to kill this little boy, too," Ney said.
U.S. District Judge Erickson instructed the jury to consider arguments for and against the death penalty by "the weight and value of each factor."
Ney said he was not contesting the factors listed by the government, including testimony from Sjodin's family.
"You say, 'But Ney, he did this horrible thing,"' Ney told the jury. "It's true. But it doesn't negate the rest of him."
North Dakota does not have the death penalty but it is allowed in federal cases, and is carried out at a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind.
Wrigley said North Dakota and the surrounding region are gentle places, where people are "not accustomed to the type of violence inflicted on Dru Sjodin."
"What the law is asking you to do is not gentle," he said. "But it is the right thing, in the right case."
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)