Jurors took one and a half days to make their decision in North Dakota's first death penalty case in more than a century. The state itself does not have the death penalty, but it is an option in federal cases.
The same federal jury convicted Rodriguez on Aug. 30 on a charge of kidnapping resulting in Sjodin's death. Sjodin's body was found in a Minnesota ravine nearly five months after she disappeared. Rodriguez had earlier convictions for assaults on women going back to 1975.
In court Friday, Rodriguez, 53, of Crookston, Minn., looked straight ahead and showed no emotion as the sentence was announced.
"I know it wasn't an easy decision for the jurors," Sjodin's mother, Linda Walker, said afterward, her voice shaking. "But Dru's voice was heard today."
Rodriguez's mother, Dolores, and sister, Ileanna Noyes, cried as the verdict was announced, as did a number of the jurors. Members of Sjodin's family looked somber and stared straight ahead. They shared hugs outside the courtroom.
After the sentence was read, Sjodin's family told reporters they were satisfied with the result.
"Everything that has happened, has happened for a reason," said her father, Allan Sjodin. "Whatever would have happened, we would have been equally satisfied ... for Dru's sake, this needed to happen."
Asked how he felt when the verdict was read, he said: "There's a quiet, black hollow spot, just like when we got the phone call about Dru. Time stopped for awhile." But now, he said, it's time for the family to move on.
Linda Walker said she was grateful for all the words of encouragement and support from friends, family and strangers during the past few years. But she said she will never get over the pain of her daughter's death.
"I've searched for a long time. It's just insurmountable," she told reporters tearfully, about the emptiness Dru's death has left. "I don't know how to put it into words. It's hard to go into public places and to see other mothers with their daughters sharing times together. I miss her every single day of my life."
The Sjodin family lawyer, Drew Wrigley, also shed a few tears, saying Dru's death and her family's struggle has touched him. "I would give an awful lot to not be the Drew in their lives now," he said, adding that the family has everyone's admiration for how they've handled the trial.
"There was no possible set of words that I could find to convey to that jury what Dru's family has been forced to go through and I don't think that I needed to because the jury, I think, saw that, when her family and loved ones were allowed to take the stand."
He added: "This case has touched us all."
Sjodin, 22, of Pequot Lakes, Minn., disappeared from a Grand Forks shopping mall parking lot on Nov. 22, 2003, and her body was found the following April in a ravine near Crookston. Authorities said she was beaten, raped and stabbed.
Rodriguez, who got out of prison about six months before the killing, was charged under federal law because Sjodin was taken across state lines.
Wrigley, in his statements to jurors, said the death penalty would be the "right thing, in the right case." He stood near her portrait and asked for justice.
Rodriguez's attorney, Richard Ney, asked the jury for mercy after calling psychologists and Rodriguez's family to talk about his childhood of poverty, abuse and exposure to farm chemicals. Ney also said Rodriguez had been anxious about being released from prison after serving more than 20 years for assaults on three women in 1975 and 1980.
Sjodin's disappearance brought national attention and months of searches by students, National Guard members from Minnesota and North Dakota and others. It also led to tougher sex offender laws in the two states.
Defense attorney Richard Ney said he will first file a motion for a new trial and if that is denied, he will appeal.
"A life is worth saving, no matter who it is," Ney said.
Ney asked the jury for mercy after calling psychologists and Rodriguez's family to talk about his childhood of poverty, abuse and exposure to farm chemicals. Ney also said Rodriguez had been anxious about being released from prison after serving more than 20 years for assaults on three women in 1975 and 1980.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.