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Appeal filed in Rodriguez case

Alfonso Rodriguez Jr.

Attorneys for Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. filed an appeal on Monday, claiming that the man convicted of killing Dru Sjodin was denied effective counsel at different phases during his murder trial.

The motion also claimed that Rodriguez's mental disability precludes him from being eligible for the death penalty, and questioned the testimony of Dr. Michael McGee, the Ramsey County Medical Examiner who performed the autopsy.

The 298-page motion, seeking a writ of habeas corpus, is in essence the final appeal for the 58-year-old Rodriguez, who was sentenced to death in 2006 for killing Sjodin, a UND student.

If the court grants the writ, it might set aside a prior court decision, change the sentence or begin a new trial. Tuesday was the deadline to file for a writ of habeas corpus.

Rodriguez has lost several appeals since he was convicted and sentenced to death for the November 2003 kidnapping, rape and murder of Sjodin. The body of the Pequot Lakes, Minn., native was found in a ravine near Crookston, Rodriguez's hometown, in April 2004.

He is currently held on death row in Terre Haute, Ind., at the only federal prison with a lethal injection chamber.

The Monday filing cited McGee's testimony in the 2004 trial of Michael Ray Hansen, who was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of his four-month old daughter. Last summer, Douglas County Judge Peter Irvine granted Hansen a new trial. Irvine said there was evidence McGee's testimony may have been false or incorrect.

The filing also suggested his attorney during the trial was unable to present his mental state and history. Rodriguez, it said, "is mentally retarded now, was mentally retarded at the time of the crime and was mentally retarded prior to the age of 18, adding that his execution would violate the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution," which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

The Herald called Northwestern University law professor Joseph Marguiles, who leads the team handling the post-conviction portion of the case, but he did not call back.

The Herald also called Lynn Jordheim at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Fargo; Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley, who prosecuted the case when he was U.S. attorney; and West Fargo attorney Robert Hoy, who represented Rodriguez at trial. All declined comment.

Bieri reports on crime and courts. Reach him at (701) 780-1118; (800) 477-6572, ext. 118; or send email to