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Federal Judge Rules that Prosecutors May Seek the Death Penalty in Rodriguez Case
8/2/2005 2:15 PM

A federal judge has ruled that prosecutors may seek the death penalty for Alfonso Rodriguez, Jr. Rodriguez is accused of the kidnapping and death of University of North Dakota student, Dru Sjodin.

A January court ruling required juries, not judges, to consider all evidence that could have an impact on sentencing. Thus, in May 2004, prosecutors included aggravating factors for the grand jury’s consideration in determining whether to indict Rodriguez. These aggravating factors could be used to seek death if Rodriguez is convicted.

The Federal Death Penalty Statute does not detail the grand jury’s role in death penalty cases. Rodriguez’ defense attorney, Richard Ney, argued that, because there is no provision in the Act that explicitly permits a grand jury to consider aggravating factors, such a procedural flaw renders the federal death penalty unconstitutional. Ney also argued that the prosecutors should have included its intended use of aggravating factors in the grand jury indictment; instead, prosecutors notified Ney in a later, separate notice.

Judge Erickson said that a grand jury should be able to “pursue its investigations unhindered by external influence.” In addition, Judge Ralph Erickson also ordered prosecutors to turn over more information about the case to the defense, including transcripts of grand jury testimony, a tentative witness list, and more information on how the government will prove Sjodin was killed in an “especially heinous, cruel and depraved manner” and following substantial planning.

Compiled from: Judge gives OK to seek death penalty in Sjodin case, Associated Press, available at Star Tribune, 2 August 2005; Judge denies death penalty appeal, Jeff Zent, The Forum, 2 August 2005.