Rodriguez asks for new trial
Fargo, N.D. — (AP) - Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., facing a death sentence for the kidnapping and death of University of North Dakota student Dru Sjodin, should get a new trial because of misconduct by prosecutors, racial bias and judicial error, his attorney claims.
Richard Ney, a Wichita, Kan., lawyer experienced in death penalty cases, filed a 60-page document in federal court Monday seeking to overturn Rodriguez's conviction and death sentence.
Ney argues that prosecutors misled jurors, appealed to their emotions or misstated the law. Judge Ralph Erickson failed to instruct jurors about the mistakes, Ney claims.
"What he terms as misconduct is argument," U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley said. "He can term it whatever he likes. They were factually based, appropriate under the law, and I look forward to defending it."
A federal jury convicted Rodriguez, 53, a convicted sex offender from Crookston, Minn., of kidnapping resulting in the death of Sjodin, who disappeared from a Grand Forks shopping mall in November 2003. Her body was found the following April in a ravine near Crookston.
Jurors voted Sept. 22 to sentence Rodriguez to death.
"A filing like this is customary in most, if not all, of our trials," Wrigley said of Ney's motion. "It certainly was expected in this case."
The prosecutor said he plans to file a detailed response. Rodriguez's formal sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 5.
During closing arguments for the trial's three phases, prosecutors appealed to jurors' emotions, made disparaging comments about the defense and called Rodriguez a liar, Ney said.
His motion also asks Erickson to grant a new trial or penalty phase based on some arguments rejected before the 12-week trial, including a request to move the trial from Fargo to Minnesota.
Ney also alleges the jury selection process excluded minorities, and he said the judge should have limited testimony from Sjodin's family and friends because of its emotional impact on jurors.
"It is likely this testimony had the effect of overcoming the jurors' ability to be neutral and rational fact finders," Ney wrote.
Erickson also allowed Rodriguez's family members to testify and talk about their love for him.
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)