FARGO, N.D. – A University of North Dakota student fought for her life when a convicted sex offender abducted her in a parking lot, raped her and killed her, a federal prosecutor told jurors before they began deliberations Tuesday.
The defense reminded the panel that a medical examiner testified he could not determine where and when Dru Sjodin died or what caused her death. Her body was found in a ravine near Crookston, Minn., in April 2004, five months after she was kidnapped from a Grand Forks mall.
Prosecutors have said they would seek the death penalty for Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. if he is convicted of kidnapping resulting in death. The jury got the case in the afternoon and adjourned after about an hour. Deliberations are to resume Wednesday morning.
U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley told jurors that "unmistakable" evidence showed Sjodin was killed by Rodriguez, 53, from Crookston, Minn.
Rodriguez lied about his whereabouts on the day Sjodin disappeared and fiber evidence tied his belongings to Sjodin's body, the prosecutor said. Blood evidence indicated Sjodin fought and was beaten in Rodriguez's car.
"Dru Sjodin battled him every step of the way, and she left us unmistakable messages," Wrigley said, noting evidence on her clothing.
Rodriguez's attorney, Robert Hoy, said there were questions about Sjodin's death.
"The only guy they put on the stand who talked about it does not know," Hoy told jurors.
Medical examiner Dr. Michael McGee testified during the trial that he believed Sjodin was stabbed in the neck at the ravine where her body was found, though he acknowledged he could not pinpoint the exact cause of her death because her body was decomposed.
He said Sjodin could have suffocated from a plastic bag over her head or died from exposure outdoors in late autumn. She was also sexually assaulted around the time of her death, McGee said.
Prosecutors said Sjodin's hands had been bound behind her back and she was nude from the waist down, in a coat with a rope tied around her neck and remnants of a plastic bag when she was found.
Hoy suggested Sjodin suffocated after the bag was placed over her head, and that the bag was used to try to prevent her from identifying her attacker and not to kill her.
Defense attorneys say the case should not have been brought in federal court; Hoy closed by telling jurors it's possible to file charges in state court.
The case is the first capital punishment case in North Dakota in more than 100 years. The state does not have the death penalty, but it's allowed in federal court.