FARGO — A federal judge has denied prosecution requests to bar expert witnesses from testifying on behalf of the defense at an upcoming hearing in the case of Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., who is seeking to have his conviction and death sentence set aside in the kidnapping and murder of Dru Sjodin.
Rodriguez, who is in his mid-60s, was sentenced to death for the 2003 death of Sjodin, a 22-year-old University of North Dakota student.
Prosecutors at Rodriguez’s 2006 trial told jurors that Sjodin was raped and that her throat was slashed at least twice.
Defense attorneys maintain there is evidence showing that Sjodin did not die in the manner alleged by the government and that there was no rape.
Instead, papers filed by the defense say Sjodin most likely died of asphyxiation after a struggle and attempted rape in Rodriguez’s car.
Federal prosecutors moved to prevent expert witnesses for the defense from providing testimony at a hearing in late January, but Judge Ralph Erickson recently issued an order denying the prosecution’s request that the witnesses be barred.
The judge said in his order that the prosecution had not demonstrated that the expert subject matter was “new” or “previously undisclosed.”
Court documents say the experts have examined Rodriguez and are in the final stages of making findings and writing their reports.