What’s next? Former U.S. Attorney outlines possibilities after judge overturns Rodriguez death penalty

Drew Wrigley

FARGO (KVRR) – The man who led the prosecution in the death penalty case against Alfonso Rodriguez, Jr. says now that a federal judge has overturned Rodriguez’s death sentence, the government’s next move will likely be decided at “the top levels of the Justice Department.”

“On a case like this, I would imagine that the Solicitor General of the United States…would make a decision on whether to appeal” former U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley said.

Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Ralph Erickson recently ruled that during Rodriguez’s 2006 trial in Fargo, misleading testimony from a medical examiner and limitations on mental health evidence had violated Rodriguez’s constitutional rights.  Erickson ordered a new sentencing phase to be conducted.

“If it were appealed and appealed successfully, there wouldn’t have to be another hearing, but I think the more likely route is that there’s going to have to be another decision about whether to move forward on another sentencing hearing,” Wrigley said.  “That’s a decision that only this Justice Department can make.”

If the penalty phase ultimately goes forward, Wrigley says an entirely new jury would have to be empaneled.  “There would be a presentation to that jury about what has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt” Wrigley said.  “The conclusions of the first jury as to guilt in this case remain 100% intact.”

In a written statement, acting U.S. Attorney Nick Chase said “The United States Department of Justice will evaluate the opinion and assess all possible options.”

Rodriguez has been on death row since he was convicted of kidnapping and killing Dru Sjodin in November, 2003.  Sjodin’s body was found the following April near Crookston, Minnesota.

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