Prosecutor expects Rodriguez appeal to be argued in 2008
Fargo, N.D. — (AP) - U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley hopes an appeal by death row inmate Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. will be scheduled for arguments before a federal appeals court within the next year, after a series of delays.
"I still remain hopeful we'll be arguing this case before the 8th Circuit in 2008," Wrigley said. "If the plan is to wear down the United States, that's not going to happen."
A federal jury sentenced Rodriguez, of Crookston, Minnesota, to death in February for the 2003 kidnapping and killing of University of North Dakota student Dru Sjodin. Rodriguez's lawyers gave notice of their plans to appeal on Feb. 8, the same day he was sentenced.
The deadline for the defense to enter its legal brief has been extended four times, including last week when the filing date was moved from Jan. 3 to Feb. 4. Defense attorneys Robert Hoy and Richard Ney had asked for an extension to March 7.
A survey by the Death Penalty Resource Counsel, a group of attorneys who help with federal death penalty cases, has shown the average time for defense attorneys to file their opening appeal briefs was about eight months. Most death row appeals last between six years and eight years, Wrigley said.
"It's the system we have. We're prepared to have it reviewed by the appellate court," Wrigley said.
In a motion filed last week, Hoy and Ney said they had not had had time to study more than 10,000 pages of transcripts. The transcripts were not filed until Aug. 30, they said.
The defense attorneys could not be reached for comment, but their motion they said they are not trying to deliberately delay the appeal.
"Instead, counsel is seeking adequate time to master the complex legal issues" in the case, the motion said.
Wrigley said he is braced for more postponements.
"We're ready to respond to their brief whenever they file it," he said. "I believe the verdict was just, and we're going to fight to uphold that verdict to the very end."
Rodriguez was convicted in September 2006 of kidnapping resulting in the death of Sjodin, 22, of Pequot Lakes, Minn. U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson made the sentence official on Feb. 8.
Sjodin disappeared from a Grand Forks shopping mall parking lot in November 2003, and her body was found near Crookston the following April.
Rodriguez had been released from prison six months earlier for other crimes, including rape and attempted kidnapping.
Rodriguez is one of about 55 death row inmates awaiting execution a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.
"The day we started to go forward with the prosecution, I believed it was the right thing to do," Wrigley said. "I continue to believe that. I sleep well."
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)