CROOKSTON, Minn. – The man charged with kidnapping University of North Dakota student Dru Sjodin (search) could face a federal murder charge after the woman's body was apparently discovered in a ravine near his hometown.
Searchers said they discovered Sjodin's body in an area near Crookston (search) that volunteers had searched several times through the winter, when it was covered in snow.
"Now I know she's been at peace for a long time," Sjodin's boyfriend, Chris Lang, said after learning the body had been found. An official identification and autopsy were scheduled.
Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. (search), 51, a convicted sex offender, has pleaded not guilty to kidnapping Sjodin. Prosecutors declined to comment Saturday, but attorneys familiar with the case said it was likely federal prosecutors would take over for a murder case.
Sjodin was last seen leaving a North Dakota shopping mall, but her body was found Saturday in Minnesota, indicating the crime may have crossed state lines. Federal law also allows the death penalty for murder committed during a kidnapping. Neither Minnesota nor North Dakota has capital punishment.
Investigators have testified that they found blood matching Sjodin's DNA in Rodriguez's car, and that a knife in the car matched a sheath discovered near her car.
Minnesota U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger and his North Dakota counterpart, Drew Wrigley, said Saturday that it was too early to discuss whether federal murder charges would be pursued.
Sjodin, of Pequot Lakes, Minn., had last been heard talking to her boyfriend on a cell phone after she left her job at a Victoria's Secret on Nov. 22.
Sheriff Mark LeTexier sobbed Saturday as he told volunteers, "Dru is home."
Sjodin's father, Allan, said it had been "a devastating day."
"We were waiting for that call and when that call came we all stopped living for a second," he said at a press conference.
Rodriguez, of Crookston, was arrested in December and is jailed about 25 miles away in Grand Forks on $5 million bail.
The prosecutor in the kidnapping case, Peter Welte, declined to comment Saturday. A judge has ordered lawyers involved in the case not to speak with the media.
Rodriguez was released from prison last May after serving a 23-year sentence for an attempted kidnapping and assault of a woman in 1980. He also pleaded guilty to rape in the past.
Rodriguez had been considered for civil commitment, but a psychologist and review board decided against recommending him for the program, which could have kept him in custody indefinitely.
Since his arrest, officials have identified about 40 "high risk" sex offenders whom they said should have been recommended for commitment and moved to place them in mental hospitals.