FARGO, N.D. – A death sentence in North Dakota's first capital punishment case in nearly a century could prompt lawmakers to reconsider whether the state should have the penalty, the governor and attorney general said.
A federal jury decided Friday a 53-year-old convicted sex offender should be executed for kidnapping and killing a college student after she left a shopping mall.
North Dakota's last execution was in 1905, and the last person sentenced to death was spared in 1915. The state no longer has the death penalty, but it is allowed in federal cases.
"We hope the need does not arise for another 100 years," U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley said Friday.
Rodriguez was charged under federal law because Sjodin was taken across state lines.
"Hopefully, this case will spur a debate in the state of North Dakota about the death penalty, and the problems and difficulties that it raises," said defense attorney Robert Hoy.
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said the slayings of Sjodin, 22, of Pequot Lakes, Minnesota, a University of North Dakota student, and Mindy Morgenstern, 22, of New Salem, a Valley City State University student, may revive the issue in the state Legislature.
Morgenstern was found dead in her apartment last week, and authorities said her throat was slashed. Moe Maurice Gibbs, 34, a Barnes County jailer who lived in her apartment building, has been charged with murder.
Sjodin disappeared from a Grand Forks shopping mall parking lot in 2003. Her body was found nearly five months later in a Minnesota ravine, and authorities said she had been beaten, raped and stabbed.
North Dakota lawmakers have not debated a death penalty bill since 1995, when the Senate defeated the idea. Stenehjem was a senator at the time, and he led the opposition to the measure on the Senate floor.
"You have to think about what kind of a reaction the state of North Dakota needs to offer," Stenehjem said Friday. "I think it's early to say that the Legislature might take a different approach than it has, but sometimes you have to look and say, 'Maybe things are changing."'
Gov. John Hoeven said he would not include a death penalty proposal in his budget recommendations to the 2007 Legislature, although he personally supports the idea.
"I'm open to that discussion," Hoeven said. "We need to take very strong measures for these violent sexual offenses, and we're going to continue to put tougher laws in place."
Sjodin's slaying has already led to tougher sex offender laws in North Dakota and Minnesota, including a sentence of life without parole for the most serious offenses and stricter supervision of offenders after they leave prison.
The jury reached its decision after more than a day and a half of deliberations.
Rodriguez, of Crookston, Minnesota, looked straight ahead and showed no emotion as the sentence was announced, while his mother and sister, as well as a number of jurors, cried.
"I know it wasn't an easy decision for the jurors," said Sjodin's mother, Linda Walker, her voice shaking. "But Dru's voice was heard today."
Defense attorney Richard Ney had 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.
Rodriguez had gotten out of prison about six months before the killing.
Ney declined comment on the sentence.
"Our focus here should be on the Sjodin family and their loss," he said. "But now it also becomes a focus on the Rodriguez family, and the execution of their son and brother."
He said he would request a new trial, and if his motion is denied, he would begin the appeals process. "Life is worthy of being saved, no matter who it is," Ney said.