While Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. spent another day on death row at a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., the parents of his victim sat in a federal courtroom in North Dakota Tuesday and listened to attorneys argue about the notes of mental health experts.
Afterward, Linda Walker and Allan Sjodin said Rodriguez isn't the only one who received a death penalty in the case that began nearly 10 years ago when their daughter, 22-year-old University of North Dakota student Dru Sjodin, was abducted from the parking lot of a Grand Forks shopping mall.
"Allan and I have said, we were given the death sentence as well," Walker said Tuesday on the courtroom steps in downtown Fargo. "We think about Dru every single day and her friends and how they're moving forward, and (her brother) Sven not having a sister ... just all the what-ifs ... the sorrow of not having her in our lives."
Dru Sjodin went missing on Thanksgiving weekend in 2003. Rodriguez was arrested nearly five months later after her body was found in a ravine near Rodriguez's hometown of Crookston, Minn. Investigators say she was raped, beaten and stabbed. He was convicted in 2005 and sentenced to death in 2006.
Defense attorneys in October 2011 filed a federal habeas corpus motion, considered the last step in the appeals process. The 298-page document claims, among other things, that Rodriguez is mentally disabled and his lawyers did a poor job of defending him.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Keith Reisenauer complained Tuesday about defense attorneys hoarding notes from a handful of mental health experts and said it seemed to be a delay tactic. He told U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson that the defense has no legal basis on which to object.
"All it does, your honor, is prolong this matter," Reisenauer said. "And frankly it has been prolonged quite well already."
Defense attorney Michael Wiseman, who testified over the phone, countered that prosecutors have received all the important documents and he doesn't believe the desired notes will help them anyway.
"I don't think it's particularly complicated," Wiseman said. "I just don't see why the government needs to see what our experts wrote down in order to form their own opinion."
Erickson was first forced to raise his voice because Wiseman said he had trouble with the court sound system, and then the judge went up a few more decibels when the defense attorney interrupted him.
"Listen to me. Just don't cut me off, please," the judge said.
Walker said afterward, "It was kind of nice to hear Judge Erickson raise a little tone there."
Erickson said he would rule later on the motion. In the end, he appeared to be leaning toward granting the prosecution's request.
"Why is the information so sacred that it cannot be produced?" the judge asked. "I don't get it."
Page 2 of 2 - A jury sentenced Rodriguez, a convicted sex offender, to death on Sept. 22, 2006. It was the state's first federal death penalty case, tried by then-U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley, who is now North Dakota's lieutenant governor.
The case resulted in tougher laws, both on the state and federal level, for sex offenders. Linda Walker has for many years advocated for the rights of victims and promoted a national sex offender public registry and website that was part of federal legislation dubbed "Dru's Law."
"We're positive we'll see this move forward as it should. Obviously not as quickly as we would like to see it, but we've begun to understand that's how the system rolls," Walker said Tuesday. "We're grateful we have this amazing team that still remains beside us. We'll get justice."