Death sentence for Alfonso Rodriguez, who killed Dru Sjodin, changed to life in prison

Prosecutors said a hearing would serve no purpose since the only possible punishment left after the death penalty was overturned was life in prison.

A balding, Hispanic man in a brown coat and orange prison jumpsuit looks with raised eyebrows.
Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. listens at his bail hearing on a kidnapping charge in Northeast Central District Court in Grand Forks on Dec. 4, 2003.
Dave Wallis / The Forum

FARGO — The death sentence for a man who kidnapped and killed Dru Sjodin 20 years ago has been changed to life in prison.

Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Ralph Erickson signed the sentence amendment for 70-year-old Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. on Thursday, May 18. The signature ends decades of court proceedings in connection to the 2003 death of Sjodin.

As of Tuesday, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons had Rodriguez classified as a death row inmate at a maximum security penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana. It’s unclear when Rodriguez will be moved off death row and where he will serve the remainder of his sentence.

Dru Sjodin.jpg
University of North Dakota student Dru Sjodin was abducted and killed in 2003.
Forum News Service file photo

"Per Bureau of Prisons (BOP) policy specific designation information, including location and timing, is not releasable until after an individual arrives at his or her destination," BOP spokesman Benjamin O'Cone said in an email to The Forum.

A jury had sentenced Rodriguez in 2007 to death for kidnapping Sjodin on Nov. 22, 2003, from Columbia Mall in Grand Forks. Rodriguez sexually assaulted the University of North Dakota student before marching her down a ravine near Crookston, Minnesota, according to prosecutors.


He then slashed the 22-year-old’s throat and left her for dead in the snow. Her body was found five months later.

Erickson, who oversaw the jury trial and sentencing hearing when he was a U.S. judge in North Dakota, overturned the death penalty for Rodriguez in September 2021. The circuit judge said defense attorneys should have done more to challenge a medical examiner’s findings on Sjodin’s death and explore Rodriguez’s mental health problems that could have mitigated the death sentence.

In March, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland withdrew authorization for federal prosecutors to seek capital punishment in the case. Rodriguez’s current attorneys and North Dakota U.S. Attorney Mac Schneider agreed last week to amend the sentence without a hearing.

"Speaking for our office, I will say that a hearing would serve no purpose because the only possible legal outcome is a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole," Schneider said in an email to The Forum.

April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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