BISMARCK, N.D. – From the moment he enters the sex offender's apartment, parole officer Brian Weigel is looking for contraband.
He kicks aside a blanket on the floor, peers down and spies a video game rated for mature players — complete with buxom computer-generated women on the cover. And despite protests from the man who lives here, the video game is coming with Weigel.
In the year since college student Dru Sjodin (search) was abducted from a North Dakota (search) parking lot and killed, allegedly by a convicted sex offender, the state has made its sex offender laws among the strictest in the nation.
Officers like Weigel have to determine if an offender is sticking to restrictions that often include a ban on sexual material in the home.
"There's a real threat," said Weigel, one of five sex offender specialists in the state's parole and probation division. "If these guys reoffend, there's going to be another real victim out there."
Weigel's unit is new, part of the state's heightened enforcement since Sjudin's abduction a year ago Monday. The 22-year-old University of North Dakota student's body was found last spring in a ravine in Minnesota.
The man charged with abducting Sjodin and killing her, Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. (search), is a convicted sex offender who had been released from prison just six months before she disappeared. He has pleaded not guilty to a federal charge of kidnapping resulting in death. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
The passage of a year has not softened the blow for Sjodin's family.
"Every day weighs heavy in our hearts," said Linda Walker, Sjodin's mother. "There isn't one day that we don't think of her, even from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to sleep."
The case drew national attention as volunteers, National Guard soldiers and law enforcement officers searched the region for months looking for Sjodin. Her body wasn't found until after the snow melted.
On Friday, the U.S. Senate endorsed a bill called "Dru's Law," which would set up a national public database of sex offenders and require strict monitoring of high-risk sex offenders for a year after their release from prison.
The bill was introduced by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who said other senators remembered Sjodin's abduction.
"The entire country was looking for Dru Sjodin," Dorgan said.
The case was particularly troubling here and in neighboring Minnesota, where Rodriguez lived, because the convicted rapist had been released even though he had been classified as a Level 3 offender, meaning he had the highest risk of committing another sex crime.
Both states have since moved to crack down on sex offenders. In North Dakota, the new parole unit is partnered with an expanded sex offender program at the state psychiatric hospital in Jamestown for the most serious sexual predators, who are recommended for civil commitment after their release. The number of people civilly committed has doubled to 23 in less than a year.
In Minnesota, two separate commissions have been working since Sjodin's death on new sentencing guidelines. One plan would double the maximum sentences for sex crimes and impose a life term on any repeat sex offender. It also would set up a new board to review the cases of inmates who have served their minimum sentences.
More restrictions may be on the way. When North Dakota lawmakers convene their 2005 session, they will face a list of proposals from a task force launched by Gov. John Hoeven. Among them are life sentences without parole for gross sexual offenses that result in death, and supervised probation for all other felony sex offenses.
The panel also is seeking a stronger method of tracking sex offenders, using global positioning devices that could alert authorities to an offender's location at all times, said Duane Houdek, an attorney for Hoeven.
While North Dakota's crime rate remains low, getting tough on sex offenders will help preserve that security, said state Rep. Lois Delmore.
"It means we're not just assuming that we're in North Dakota and everyone's healthy and happy and things like this can't happen," she said.