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By Stephen J. Lee Forum News Service, Published May 21 2013

Sjodin family: 'Justice will be served'

By Stephen J. Lee

Forum News Service

FARGO – Ten years ago this month, a Minnesota prison released Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. to his Crookston, Minn., 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 Rodriguez, who is appealing a federal death sentence for murdering Sjodin.

“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 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 the 2006 murder 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 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 information. If it 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 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 and other defense attorneys are arguing a habeas corpus motion, 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.

Erickson didn’t say when he would rule on the motion argued Tuesday.

Rodriguez is imprisoned in Terre Haute, Ind., 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.