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Hearing set to address Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. mental health claim

FARGO – A federal judge has set a hearing date for Jan. 28 to consider claims by attorneys for Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. that he is not mentally competent to be executed.

Judge Ralph Erickson allotted 10 days for the hearing. He set the hearing date during a status conference held Tuesday, July 10, in Erickson’s chambers.

The prosecution said it is still deposing expert witnesses expected to be called by the defense.

Rodriguez, 65, was sentenced to death for the 2003 kidnapping and murder of Dru Sjodin, a 22-year-old University of North Dakota student. Prosecutors at his 2006 trial told jurors that Sjodin was raped and her throat was slashed at least twice.

Papers recently filed by the defense in U.S. District Court in Fargo claim that evidence now in possession of the defense “conclusively proves that Dru Sjodin did not die in the manner alleged by the government at trial” and that there was no rape.

Instead, the papers state Sjodin most likely died of asphyxiation after a struggle and attempted rape in Rodriguez’s car.

The filing states the conviction and sentence should be overturned because prosecutors knew or should have known that Ramsey County (Minn.) Medical Examiner Dr. Michael McGee testified falsely about the presence of semen on autopsy swabs.

The prosecution has yet to file a response to the defense filing regarding the manner of Sjodin's death.

An evidentiary hearing had been set for Aug. 20 to consider the mental health claims being made by the defense. That hearing is now set for Jan. 28.