FARGO, N.D. – A federal jury declared a convicted sex offender guilty Wednesday in the kidnapping and killing of college student Dru Sjodin, whose body was found abandoned in a Minnesota ravine.
The verdict against Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. clears the way for the first death penalty deliberations in North Dakota in more than a century.
Rodriguez stared straight ahead as the verdict was read.
Sjodin, 22, a University of North Dakota student from Pequot Lakes, Minn., was abducted from the parking lot of a Grand Forks shopping mall on Nov. 22, 2003. Her body was found the following April in a ravine near Crookston, Minn. Rodriguez, 53, lived in Crookston at the time.
Prosecutors said Sjodin was stabbed, raped and left to die.
The jurors deliberated for less than four hours before returning the verdict. They are to reconvene next Tuesday to deliberate on whether Rodriguez is eligible for the death penalty. North Dakota does not have the death penalty, but it is allowed in federal cases.
Sjodin's mother and father stared straight ahead as the verdict was read, but family members shared hugs later outside the courtroom.
Rodriguez' mother, Dolores, wiped her face with a tissue.
In closing arguments Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley told jurors Sjodin fought for her life and left "unmistakable" evidence about the crime.
Rodriguez's attorney, Robert Hoy, said the government failed to prove its case. He said a medical examiner called to testify by prosecutors could not say for certain where Sjodin died, when she died, or the cause of her death.
But Wrigley told jurors that blood found in Rodriguez's car matched Sjodin's DNA. He said it was found in a mist pattern, indicating Sjodin fought her attacker and was beaten.
"Ladies and gentlemen, Dru Sjodin battled him every step of the way, and she left us unmistakable messages," Wrigley said.