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Prosecutor: N.D. Student Was Left to Die

August 14, 2006

FARGO, N.D. (AP) _ Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. stabbed college student Dru Sjodin, slit her throat and left her to die, a federal prosecutor told jurors Monday as the government began presenting its case against the convicted sex offender.

The defense countered that the case should not even be in federal court.

Rodriguez is charged with kidnapping resulting in the death of the 22-year-old University of North Dakota student, who disappeared from a Grand Forks mall parking lot in November 2003.

Sjodin’s body was found in April 2004, in a ravine near Crookston, Minn., where Rodriguez, 53, was living with his mother.

Federal prosecutors have said they plan to seek the death penalty if Rodriguez is convicted, making it the first capital punishment case in North Dakota in more than 100 years. Neither North Dakota nor Minnesota has a state death penalty.

In his opening statement, Assistant U.S. Attorney Keith Reisenauer said Rodriguez held Sjodin ``for the purpose of sexually assaulting her.″ He said the defendant ``stabbed her and slashed her throat, leaving her to die in a ditch.″

Sjodin died of suffocation, the wound to her neck, or possibly from exposure to the weather, the prosecutor said. He said blood in Rodriguez’s car matched Sjodin’s DNA, and hair on her coat matched Rodriguez’s DNA.

Defense attorney Robert Hoy, in his brief opening statement, did not say Rodriguez is innocent. But he argued that the case should be in state court, not federal court, and that Sjodin died near the Grand Forks parking lot where she disappeared and not in Minnesota.

``Despite all you’ve heard about this case, it’s the wrong charge in the wrong court,″ Hoy said. Prosecutors, he said, cannot prove ``when she died, where she died, or the precise cause of her death.″

It took several weeks for a jury panel of 12, plus four alternates, to be selected. U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson warned jurors not to discuss the case outside the courtroom.

In the three years since Sjodin’s kidnapping, both Minnesota and North Dakota have made major changes in the way they handle sexual predators, keeping more of them locked up longer and supervising them more closely after they get out.

Just six months before Sjodin vanished, Minnesota officials had decided not to commit Rodriguez despite his history. Sjodin was from Pequot Lakes, Minn.

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