Minnesota Settles Slain Student Dru Sjodin Wrongful Death Suit for $300K

The state of Minnesota has reached a settlement with the family of Dru Sjodin, a college student who was kidnapped and killed almost four years ago by a convicted sex offender who was released from prison a few months before the crime.

The family had taken steps to seek more than $1 million in damages in a wrongful death lawsuit.

The $300,000 agreement — finalized in July but not made public until this week — protects the state from being sued over Sjodin's death at the hands of Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., a convicted rapist who was released from state prison six months before Sjodin disappeared.

Sjodin, of Pequot Lakes, Minn., was last seen leaving her job at a Grand Forks mall on Nov. 22, 2003. Her body was found the next April in a ravine near Crookston, Minn., where Rodriguez had been living with his mother. Authorities said she had been beaten, raped and stabbed.

A federal jury in North Dakota convicted Rodriguez for Sjodin's kidnapping and killing and sentenced him to death.

The family's attorney argued in a 2004 letter that state authorities were partly responsible for Sjodin's death. A state Department of Corrections psychologist had decided against recommending Rodriguez for civil commitment as he finished serving a 23-year sentence for stabbing and trying to abduct a woman.

The settlement — signed by Sjodin's father, Allan Sjodin, on June 20, and Corrections Commissioner Joan Fabian on July 9 — releases the Corrections Department and other state agencies from those claims.

State authorities also avoided admitting any errors.

"This agreement does not constitute an admission of any liability, an admission of a violation of state or federal law, or an admission of any wrongdoing by the state," the settlement reads.

Corrections Department spokeswoman Shari Burt said the agency already paid the family from its budget.

The family's lawyer, Timothy Murphy, didn't immediately return telephone messages.

Sjodin's murder shook up Minnesota's approach to sex crimes, resulting in tougher sentences and many more sex offenders being civilly committed to locked treatment facilities after they had served their prison sentences.

Fabian referred to the new policies in a prepared statement that said, "We hope these changes will make Minnesota safer for all of its children and will bring some consolation to the family."