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Prosecutors presented false info in Dru Sjodin murder trial, defense argues

Alfonso Rodriguez Jr.

FARGO — Attorneys for Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., the man on death row for the murder of Dru Sjodin, claim prosecutors presented false testimony against the convicted man, arguing test results presented by a medical examiner did not prove she was raped.

A motion filed Tuesday seeks to have Drew Wrigley, former North Dakota lieutenant governor and the lead prosecutor during Rodriguez's trial, and his former assistant, Norman Anderson, testify on whether they knowingly presented false information on the case and that they failed to correct it. Rodriguez, 64, is appealing his death sentence after he was found guilty in federal court of the 2003 kidnapping and murder of Sjodin, a 22-year-old UND student who was abducted in Grand Forks.

A search party found her body in April 2004 in a ravine near Crookston, five months later.

The defense argued in its motion evidence presented in the case doesn't prove that Sjodin was raped before she was killed, according to the motion filed Tuesday. Dr. Michael McGee, a medical examiner for Minnesota's Ramsey County, testified enzyme levels indicated she was sexually assaulted 24 to 36 hours before her death, with him stating "elevated" levels of acid phosphatase, which has been associated with the presence of semen, was found in her body. Sjodin's body decomposed in the elements, but the cold "preserved" the acid phosphatase inside her body, McGee testified.

The defense claims McGee's testimony is "plainly and indisputably incorrect" and led to Rodriguez's death sentence. McGee testified the swabs were never tested for prostate-specific antigen. But the swabs were tested by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension just days after Sjodin's body was found, the defense noted in its motion. Those swabs tested negative for male semen, BCA scientist Steven Fischer said in court documents. Those findings were not released until May 8, 2006, or two months before the trial.

Other experts in the case came to the same conclusion, according to court documents.

"To this date, Dr. McGee stands alone in his conclusion, including those about the presence or absence of semen," the defense stated in its motion.

The motion also questions whether the levels McGee used to test swabs were standard or "arbitrary" levels he set for his lab, claiming the doctor "all but admitted" he did not use a scientific method to determine the levels of acid phosphatase.

The defense argued the lack of semen, prostate-specific antigen or male DNA were found on the swabs taken from Sjodin's body undermines conclusions that positive tests for acid phosphatase was an indicator of semen.

"The government knew, or should have known, that Dr. McGee's testimony ... was materially false, inaccurate and substantially misleading," the defense argued.

An evidentiary hearing is set for March 28, but it's unclear if the motion will be discussed then.

If a federal judge rules in the defense's favor, Rodriguez's attorneys could question Wrigley, who argued rape as a reason for the death sentence. Anderson also would be questioned on claims he avoided asking Fischer about the swab tests.

The motion also asks for any correspondence from law enforcement entities that pertains to the case.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers business and political stories. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family continues to raise registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as the Dickinson city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

(701) 780-1248
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