Death sentence reduced to life in prison for man who killed North Dakota student

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FARGO, N.D. (AP) — The death sentence for a Minnesota man who killed a North Dakota college student 20 years ago has been officially changed to life in prison.

Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Ralph Erickson signed the sentence amendment for Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. last week, according to court records.

Rodriguez, a sex offender, was convicted in 2007 of kidnapping 22-year-old Dru Sjodin on Nov. 22, 2003, from a Grand Forks shopping mall. He then sexually assaulted her, cut her throat and left her to die in a ravine near Crookston, Minnesota.

The body of Sjodin, who was a University of North Dakota student, was found five months later.

U.S. Attorney Mac Schneider in North Dakota filed a notice in federal court in March withdrawing his effort to seek the death penalty. He said he did so at the direction of U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland.

That left life in prison without parole as the only possible sentenced for Rodriguez.

Rodriguez's death sentence was overturned in September 2021 by Erikson, who found that Rodriguez's constitutional rights were violated during the trial by misleading testimony from the coroner, the failure of lawyers to outline the possibility of an insanity defense, and evidence of severe post-traumatic stress disorder.

Rodriguez was still listed as a death row inmate at a maximum security penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, on Tuesday. A message was sent to the prison to find out if he had been moved and where he might be held.

In 2021, Garland announced a moratorium on federal executions after the Justice Department was criticized by death penalty opponents for pursuing the sentence despite President Joe’s Biden’s opposition to capital punishment.