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US Attorney General Garland bars execution of man who abducted, killed Dru Sjodin 20 years ago



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The man convicted in 2006 of abducting Minnesotan Dru Sjodin from outside a Grand Forks shopping mall nearly 20 years ago and killing her is no longer facing the death penalty and instead can expect to spend the rest of his life in prison.

US Attorney Merrick Garland on Tuesday directed the US Attorney’s Office in North Dakota to withdraw the federal government’s intention to have Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., 70, executed.

“My thoughts today are with Dru Sjodin’s family, particularly her parents, Linda Walker and Allan Sjodin,” said Mac Schneider, the US attorney for North Dakota in a statement. “They are genuinely good people and loving parents, who in the wake of an unimaginable loss, have worked closely with our office for nearly 20 years. We continue to wish them the greatest measure of peace possible.”

Messages were left Tuesday with Rodriguez’s attorney, Eric Montroy, seeking his reaction to Garland’s order.

A phone message left with Sjodin’s mother was not immediately returned.

Schneider told the Star Tribune that Sjodin’s parents were informed Monday about Rodriguez being spared the death penalty.

“I met with Linda Walker at her home in Pequot Lakes on Monday, and at the same time spoke with Allan Sjodin and other members of the family on the phone,” Schneider said. Out of “respect for their privacy,” he declined to share their reaction to the news.

Sjodin’s father, Allan Sjodin, said on the day in September 2006 after Rodriguez was sentenced to death, “I just felt all along that for Dru’s sake, this needed to happen.”

The kidnapping, sex assault and murder of the 22-year-old University of North Dakota student from Pequot Lakes led to a Minnesota law enacted in 2005 that increased penalties for sex offenders.

Also, the National Sex Offender Registry was named in 2006 for Sjodin, who was abducted after leaving work at the Columbia Mall. The registry allows users to search for offenders throughout the United States.

Rodriguez was a Level 3 registered sexual offender in Minnesota, classifying him as among the most likely to re-offend. He had been released from prison after a 23-year sentence roughly six months before Sjodin disappeared. Five months after Rodriguez’s arrest, Drew’s body was found just outside Crookston, Minn.

While the announcement did not explain why Garland issued his order, the Justice Department under President Joe Biden halted federal executions in the summer of 2021 after a historic use of capital punishment by the Trump administration, which carried out 13 executions in six months.

Support for the death penalty among Americans is at near-historic lows after peaking in the mid-1990s and steadily declining since, according to the nonpartisan Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, DC.

Schneider thanked everyone in his office and his predecessor, Drew Wrigley, for “their work on this tragic case. As a result of their efforts, Mr. Rodriguez is — and will remain — a convicted murderer.”

The date for a final sentencing proceeding for Rodriguez is yet to be determined, he said.

The decision to no longer seek the death penalty for Rodriguez, who is incarcerated at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., “has changed how the United States Attorney’s Office will proceed with this case,” Schneider said. “What will not change is that Mr. Rodriguez will draw his last breath in a federal prison.”

Rodriguez was arrested in December 2003, and Sjodin’s body was found in April 2004 in a ravine near Rodriguez’s hometown of Crookston, Minn. Investigators say she was raped, beaten and stabbed.

Defense attorneys in October 2011 appealed to have the sentence thrown out or amended on grounds that Rodriguez, who has rape and other serious crimes on his record, is mentally disabled and had incompetent legal counsel.

North Dakota does not have the death penalty, but Sjodin’s kidnapping crossed state lines, making it a federal crime punishable under the death penalty act of 1994.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

US Attorney General Garland bars execution of man who abducted, killed Dru Sjodin 20 years ago

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