Rapist's Case Renews Calls for Death Penalty

The arrest of a convicted rapist in the kidnapping of a college student has stirred anger over the man's release and brought calls from the governor to bring back the death penalty in Minnesota (search).

Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. (search), 50, had been out of prison less than a year before his arrest Monday in the disappearance of Dru Sjodin (search), a 22-year-old University of North Dakota student. She vanished from a Grand Forks, N.D., mall on Nov. 22 and is still missing.

Despite a history of assaults that put Rodriguez among the state's most serious sex offenders, a psychologist and a review board agreed not to recommend that he be confined indefinitely for treatment after he served 23 years in prison for attempted kidnapping.

"I think they should have a special place for these kind of people," said Annetta Raymond, a woman in her mid-70s who grew up in Crookston, the town of about 8,000 where Rodriguez was living when he was arrested. Added Florence Kuznia, 77: "I don't think they should have let him out."

North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven said he had talked to Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty to ask why Rodriguez was released. The civil commitment process "should have worked in this case," Hoeven said.

The Pawlenty administration has taken pains to note the process that led to Rodriguez's release happened under a previous administration.

Pawlenty is now trying to restore Minnesota's death penalty, abolished nearly a century ago after a botched hanging.

The governor called Sjodin's disappearance a "tipping point," and said he would ask the Legislature to allow capital punishment in some cases, including those in which sexual assaults are coupled with murders or attempted murder.

"As a Minnesotan, as a governor, as a dad of two young daughters, I'm fed up. I'm fed up with these stories where we have children abducted, women abducted with a not very good system for resolving the issue," he said.

Some Democrats accused Pawlenty of grandstanding on the issue, and even key people in his own Republican party were cool to the idea. Pawlenty acknowledged the idea would be an "uphill battle" when the Legislature convenes in February.

Sjodin was last heard talking to her boyfriend on a cell phone after she left her job at a Victoria's Secret.

The sentiment in Grand Forks "is to have a trial and then take him out and kill him," said Mike McNamara, host of a local radio talk show. "I'm talking about grandmothers calling me, saying things like, `String him up in the town square and let us deal with it."'

Anger has been so fierce that Rodriguez said through his lawyer Thursday that he wanted to remain in custody for his own safety. A North Dakota judge set bail at $5 million.

Pawlenty's announcement stirred up a storm of calls and e-mails to his office -- more than 600 after the first day alone. Sixty percent were in favor of the governor's stance, and 40 percent opposed, according to his staff.

With news of Rodriguez's arrest dominating the airwaves this week, 500 people filled a high school auditorium in nearby Thief River Falls on Tuesday for a hearing to notify the public about a sex offender. Police had expected about 100.

"It's nerve-racking and scary," said Angela Westlin, who said she wanted to learn what she needs to know to protect her 3-year-old and 1-month-old girls. "I think I left six lights on at home when I left to come to this meeting."

Already, Corrections Commissioner Joan Fabian has eliminated some of the steps before a sex offender may be committed.

Pawlenty has also said he will look at lengthening sentences in sex crimes and explore ways to increase supervision of violent sex offenders, perhaps through irremovable bracelets to track their whereabouts.