Rodriguez attorney argues for new trial
Fargo, N.D. — (AP) - Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. deserves a new trial, an attorney for the man facing a death sentence for the killing of college student Dru Sjodin argued Friday.
Defense attorney Richard Ney said prosecutors misstated the law and made inappropriate arguments during Rodriguez's trial last fall, and he said U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson did not give the jury proper instructions about prosecutor misconduct.
Ney told Erickson on Friday that defense attorneys were forced to object many times during prosecutors' closing argument, running the risk of alienating jurors.
"It does have a cumulative effect on the jury," Ney said.
U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley said the case was handled fairly.
"The jurors were not dunces," he said. "They were making independent determinations as we went along."
Wrigley also said Erickson had ruled in favor of the defense on a number of issues during trial.
"Anything even close to a judgment call, it fell to the defense," Wrigley said.
Rodriguez, 53, a convicted sex offender from Crookston, Minn., was found guilty last September of a charge of kidnapping resulting in the death of Sjodin, 22, a University of North Dakota student from Pequot Lakes, Minn.
The same jurors who convicted him also voted to sentence him to death. Erickson cannot change the sentence, but he could grant Rodriguez a new trial. He said Friday that he will rule before Rodriguez's formal sentencing on Feb. 8.
Ney brought up 30 issues in his motion last November for a new trial. Only a handful of them were argued in court on Friday.
Ney complained about Wrigley's use of language during closing arguments, when the prosecutor called a defense scenario "a twist on words," and said Sjodin "is right here with us all." Ney also said Wrigley went too far by appealing to the emotions of jurors and repeatedly calling Rodriguez a liar.
Wrigley said his arguments were proper, especially when taken in full context.
"We were well within our right to choose our own words, as long as we're sticking to the evidence," Wrigley said. "And we were."
Ney also argued that jurors were misled when they were asked to consider factors that could have led to a sentence of life in prison. Wrigley said the jury got the proper instructions on how to weigh those factors.
Outside the courtroom, Wrigley said the issues that came up during the trial were discussed "fairly and forcefully" on both sides.
"There was nothing surprising today," he said of the hearing. "This is part of what's necessary in any case."
Sjodin's parents, Allen Sjodin and Linda Walker, said it was difficult to sit through the proceedings, but they understood it's part of the legal system.
"We're grateful for all the support we've received," Walker said.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)