Alfonso Rodriguez: Dru Sjodin’s Killer is Serving Jail Time Today

Dru Sjodin, a 22-year-old woman in the early stages of building her life through various jobs, suddenly vanished, prompting a nationwide search. Multiple law enforcement agencies collaborated to locate her. After an extensive investigation spanning almost five months, her lifeless body was discovered. The primary suspect in Dru Sjodin’s murder case was Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. In ’20/20: Missing from the Mall’, the motivations behind Alfonso’s crimes are explored, along with an examination of whether justice was rightfully served in his case.

Who is Alfonso Rodriguez?

Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. was born on February 18, 1953, into a family of migrant farm workers, Dolores and Alfonso Rodriguez Sr., who frequently traveled between Texas and Minnesota. Eventually, they settled in Crookston, Minnesota, in 1963, where Alfonso spent much of his formative years. Early on, he displayed a tendency toward substance abuse. When he was 21 years old, he asked a woman for a ride home and proceeded to attempt to rape her, but this was just the beginning. Following his initial offense, Alfonso became embroiled in numerous sexual assault cases against women, often pleading guilty.

Alfonso’s extensive criminal record primarily comprised crimes targeting women. In 1980, he received a 23-year prison sentence for the rape, aggravated assault, and kidnapping of a woman. Alfonso was released from prison on May 1, 2003, but with a notable designation: he was released as a Minnesota Level 3 sex offender. In the context of sex offender classification in Minnesota, Level 3 signifies individuals considered to have the highest risk of reoffending and poses a potential danger to public safety.

On November 22, 2003, Alfonso encountered a young woman at the Columbia Mall in Grand Forks, North Dakota. The woman was 22-year-old Dru Katrina Sjodin, a University of North Dakota student working at a Victoria’s Secret shop within the mall. After concluding her shift around 4 pm and purchasing a purse, she began walking towards her car, intending to proceed to her second job at the El Roco nightclub. It was during this moment that Alfonso attacked and kidnapped her. He raped her, physically abused her, and also stabbed her several times. He tied her hands behind her back and suffocated her by tying a plastic bag around her neck after he had slit her throat.

Alfonso had committed the crime near his hometown in Crookston and dumped her body in the vicinity. Concerns arose when Dru failed to contact her boyfriend and did not appear for her second job, prompting a widespread search. The police initiated an investigation, scrutinizing the surveillance footage from the mall where Dru was last seen. Through the video, they identified Alfonso, leading to an immediate focus on him. During interrogation, Alfonso claimed he had been at the mall that day, stating he watched ‘Once Upon a Time in Mexico’ at Columbia Mall Cinema 4.

However, upon verification, the police discovered that the movie was not being screened in that theater or any nearby theaters on that specific day. The evidence against Alfonso began to accumulate as it was discovered that he had made purchases in the mall, including the acquisition of a knife. A search warrant executed on his car revealed two tool-kit knives, a type exclusively sold at two stores within a 1-mile radius of the mall where Dru disappeared. One of the knives in the car was immersed in cleaning liquid. Additionally, investigators recovered a woman’s shoe and another knife with traces of blood. DNA analysis confirmed a positive match with Dru’s DNA. Consequently, on December 1, 2003, 50-year-old Alfonso was arrested.

Where is Alfonso Rodriguez Now?

Dru Katrina Sjodin’s body was discovered in a ravine west of Crookston, Minnesota, on April 17, 2004. The coroner’s report determined that she had died from trauma to the neck, suffocation, or exposure to natural elements. Due to the location of the body in a different state, the case acquired federal significance, and the possibility of a death sentence hung over Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. On August 30, 2006, Alfonso was convicted of kidnapping Dru Sjodin, resulting in her death. In February 2007, Alfonso received a death sentence following a jury recommendation of the same nature.

Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. and his defense team pursued multiple avenues to overturn his sentence. In October 2011, they attempted to invoke habeas corpus, asserting that Alfonso was mentally unstable. In 2013, he confessed to killing Dru in an interview with Dr. Michael Welner. His defense team filed an appeal, and in 2021, the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit overturned his death sentence, ordering new sentencing due to perceived misleading arguments and reports by the medical coroner. In March 2023, prosecutors announced they were no longer seeking the death penalty for Alfonso. In May 2023, he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. As of the latest reports, Alfonso is 70 years old and serving his sentence at the FCC Coleman USP-2, a high-security prison located in Sumterville, Florida.

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