Parents of slain student: ‘Justice will be served’
FARGO — It’s been 10 years ago this month since a Minnesota prison released Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. to his Crookston home, where he lived prior to kidnapping and killing University of North Dakota student Dru Sjodin six months later.
Her parents continue driving hours each time there’s a court hearing for the convicted murderer, who is appealing a federal death sentence for Sjodin’s death.
“Ten years,” said Dru’s mother, Linda Walker, after a brief Tuesday hearing in Fargo. “We think of Dru every single day. We’ll get justice.”
Allan Sjodin, now retired from his career as a road construction manager, said their faithful attendance during years of the appeal isn’t going to change.
“Justice will be served,” he said. “We aren’t going anywhere. We will be here.”
Tuesday’s motion hearing, part of Rodriguez’s appeal of his federal death sentence imposed in February 2007 by U.S. Judge Ralph Erickson, focused on prosecutors’ seeking notes from medical doctors hired by Rodriguez’s defense to examine him in 2011 and 2012, as well as notes from a defense expert who in the past year or so interviewed family members and friends who knew Rodriguez before he was 18 and first went to jail for attacking women.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Keith Reisenauer told Erickson it appeared defense attorneys were refusing to turn over information simply to delay the process.
“And frankly, it’s been prolonged quite a while already,” said Reisenauer, who helped prosecute Rodriguez during his 2006 trial.
The prosecutor said Rodriguez’s attorneys should turn over doctors’ notes “instead of playing this hopscotch-around game.”
Reisenauer said federal prosecutors plan to have experts examine Rodriguez in June and July and should have all available information from the defense experts before those tests.
Michael Wiseman, a defense attorney from Pennsylvania who took part in Tuesday’s hearing by telephone, argued that his experts’ notes wouldn’t add anything to the prosecution experts’ exams.
During the 25-minute hearing, Erickson said he was puzzled by the defense’s reluctance to turn over the requested information, which seems to include “facts,” not just a doctor’s private musings before he makes a finding.
If the information was important enough for the defense experts to conclude that Rodriguez was so damaged as a child and by 30 years of incarceration in Minnesota prisons that it affected his mental health, why isn’t the same information important for the prosecution to have in making its own evaluation of Rodriguez, Erickson questioned.
“Mr. Wiseman, why not give this information? I just don’t get it,” the judge said.
Wiseman said he had no further answer except the prosecution had the information it needed and could later get access to notes during cross-examination of experts. There is a process to follow, and it should be followed, Wiseman said.
Erickson pressed him: “Are you saying the government is in possession of all relevant facts?”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Wiseman replied.
He and other defense attorneys are making what is often called the last appeal in death penalty cases. Such appeals can be sweeping in challenging basic constitutional issues.
In 2011, the defense filed a 300-page brief arguing Rodriguez’s original defense team didn’t properly pursue experts’ examinations and reports in studying Rodriguez’s mental health, from the time he was a child and during his attack on Sjodin. It also included the first account by Rodriguez of his killing Sjodin, through a psychiatrist’s report.
This team’s experts, from examinations of Rodriguez in 2011 and 2012, concluded he could not appreciate the wrongfulness of what he did to Sjodin, that he is mentally retarded, suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome from childhood sexual and other abuse and was insane at the time he killed Sjodin.
Reisenauer said the prosecution already deferred last year to the defense and delayed its own scheduled examinations of Rodriguez.
This summer, Reisenauer said prosecutors want two experts to spend up to six days testing Rodriguez’ mental health.
Part of the prosecution’s request is for what one of the defense experts called “additional information,” gleaned last year from interviews with several people who knew Rodriguez well, including family members, Reisenauer told Erickson.
“There should be nothing to hide here,” Reisenauer said.
Erickson didn’t say when he would rule on the prosecution’s motion to compel the defense to turn over the materials.
In September 2006 a jury convicted Rodriguez of killing Sjodin and weeks later decided he should be put to death. He’s been in prison in Terre Haute, Ind., since, one of 59 people on federal death row.
The last federal prisoner executed was Louis Jones in March 2003; he was only the third federal prisoner executed since the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988.
Rodriguez has not appeared at his appeal hearings since he was sentenced.
Walker mentioned that her daughter’s body was found nine years ago this April in a ravine just a mile west of Crookston, covered for five months by snow and unseen until then despite massive searches involving thousands, including several that passed by the same ravine.
“As Allan and I have said, we were given a death sentence ourselves,” she said.