A federal judge has tossed out the death sentence for a man convicted in the 2003 murder of Minnesota native Dru Sjodin.
Judge Ralph Erickson, serving on the Eighth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, ordered the resentencing of Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., a registered sex offender who abducted the 22-year-old Sjodin from the Columbia Mall parking lot in Grand Forks, North Dakota, in November 2003. Sjodin was born and raised in Pequot Lakes, Minnesota, and chose to attend college at the University of North Dakota.
On Friday Erickson ruled that Rodriguez’s death sentence violated his constitutional rights in two respects. First, the Ramsey County medical examiner was found to have given “misleading” and “inaccurate” testimony about the cause of Sjodin’s death. And second, Rodriguez’s lawyers missed an opportunity to allow Rodriguez to undergo a comprehensive “mental health evaluation,” which might have allowed him to plead insanity and thus mitigate his sentence.
“While it is beyond question that Rodriguez abducted and murdered Sjodin, the evidence now in the record has led the Court to conclude that errors were made that violate the United States Constitution such that due process demands a new penalty phase trial be held,” he wrote in his ruling, according to WCCO.
Rodriguez had been awaiting execution on death row for nearly 15 years before Erickson’s resentencing order.
Sjodin’s murder received extensive local and national coverage at the time and, upon the signing of Dru’s Law by President George W. Bush in 2006, led to the renaming of the National Sex Offender Public Registry to the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Registry.
Though Sjodin was abducted and murdered in November 2003, her body was not discovered until April 2004 in Crookston, Minnesota. Rodriguez had beaten, stabbed, sexually assaulted, and suffocated Sjodin before dumping her in a ravine.
Six months prior to the murder, Rodriguez had been released from prison following a 23-year prison stint for kidnapping, aggravated assault, and rape. He was a habitual drug user throughout his youth and committed his first rape in 1974, at age 21.