Alyssa Hurst  /  AP
Drew Wrigley, U.S. attorney for North Dakota, second from left, is joined by Tom Heffelfinger, U.S. attorney for Minnesota, left; Greg Widseth, Polk County (Minn.) attorney; and Peter Welte, Grand Forks County, N.D., state’s attorney, for a statement on the indictment of Alfonso Rodriguez Jr.
updated 5/12/2004 8:23:34 PM ET 2004-05-13T00:23:34

A federal grand jury on Wednesday charged a convicted sex offender in the kidnapping and death of University of North Dakota student Dru Sjodin.

Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., 51, appeared in federal court and pleaded not guilty to a charge of kidnapping, resulting in death. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

The complaint says the crime involved “torture and serious physical abuse.” Rodriguez “held her for purposes of sexually assaulting her,” the complaint says.

Neither North Dakota, where Sjodin disappeared in November, nor Minnesota, where her body was found last month, has the death penalty.

Rodriguez, of Crookston, Minn., was arrested in December and has been in custody since on a state kidnapping charge.

Drew Wrigley, U.S. attorney for North Dakota, estimated that Rodriguez’s trial would last three or four weeks. The trial was set for July 19.

Gag order in effect
Northeast Central District Judge Lawrence Jahnke has issued a gag order barring attorneys on both sides from talking about the state case.

Allan Sjodin, Dru’s father, said he has no preference on where the case is tried.

“I really haven’t sat down and thought about the whole process,” he said Wednesday. “We’re just going to follow the process. They’re going to handle the case, and we believe in the justice system.”

Sjodin, 22, of Pequot Lakes, Minn., disappeared from a Grand Forks shopping mall parking lot Nov. 22 after she left her job at a Victoria’s Secret. Her body was found April 17 near a county road northwest of Crookston, Minn.

Federal charges had been expected because authorities believe Rodriguez crossed state lines while committing the crime.

Rodriguez was released from prison last May, after serving a 23-year sentence for attempted kidnapping, assault and other convictions for attempted rape and aggravated rape.

Investigators said they found traces of Sjodin’s DNA in blood in Rodriguez’s car. They also found a knife in the trunk that matched a sheath found near Sjodin’s car.

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