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Suspect in Dru Sjodin's Disappearance Goes to Court

Aired December 4, 2003 - 14:27   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Live pictures now in Grand Forks, North Dakota. You see a very close shot of 50-year-old Alfonzo Rodriguez Jr., who is a three-times convicted rapist, and who is considered now a suspect in the disappearance of college student Dru Sjodin, who disappeared from a shopping mall parking lot. And just returned to North Dakota after being apprehended in Minnesota.
He is in a district courtroom right now, surrounded by family members and friends of Dru Sjodin, the missing girl as that search continues. Surrounded by them. They're there for a preliminary hearing. Let's listen in as the judge begins this first hearing.

HARLAN DYRUD, MAGISTRATE: Court is in session. This is December 4th of 2003. About 1:30 in the afternoon. Time set for the first appearance in the case of 03K3368, the state of North Dakota, plaintiff, versus Alfonzo Rodriguez Jr., defendant.

I know that you're Mr. Rodriguez, is that correct?

Mr. Rodriguez is here with David Dusek (ph), attorney at law, Grand Forks, North Dakota. You're representing Mr. Rodriguez today?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, your honor.

DYRUD: Peter Welte, the state's attorney, is present in court.

First thing I would is ask is that -- first of all, Mr. Dusek, do you have a copy of the information filed?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I was (UNINTELLIGIBLE) got a copy this morning, your honor.

DYRUD: Very well, I would like to have them to Mr. Dusek, Mr, Gonzales (ph) and Mr. Welte just stand where you are, please. And I would to ask Mr. Welte to read the complaint to Mr. Gonzales.

PETER WELTE, STATE'S ATTORNEY: Your honor, I would ask that Rick Roland (ph) from our office be entered on the record, and he'll be handling the case this afternoon.

DYRUD: Very well, thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, your honor.

The state of North Dakota, plaintiff, versus Alfonzo Rodriguez Jr., defendant. Peter D. Welte (UNINTELLIGIBLE), for the county of Grand Forks in the state of North Dakota gives this court to understand and be informed that on our about the 22nd day of November 2003, at approximately 5:00 p.m., within the county of Grand Forks in the state of North Dakota, one Alfonzo Rodriguez Jr. did commit the crime of kidnapping in violation of sections 12.1-1801 sub 1, 12.1.3201 sub 2 of the North Dakota censure code, a Class A felony, by then and there, abducting another human being.

To wit that Alfonzo Rodriguez Jr. did abduct Dru Sjodin from the J.C. Penney store parking lot located at the Columbia Mall in Grand Forks, North Dakota. This is contrary to the statute against the peace and dignity of the state of North Dakota. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Grand Forks, North Dakota, this first day of December 2003.

Your honor, names of all witnesses for the prosecution known to the state's attorney at this date include James Reamer (ph), Grand Forks Police Department, Mike Shoals (ph), Grand Fork Police Department, Jim Vingnis (ph), Grand Forks Police Department, Donovan Radmusen (ph), Grand Forks Police Department, Dan Alquist (ph), Gary Peterson (ph), Chris Lang (ph), Nate Murphy (ph), Kathy Murray (ph).

This is signed by Mr. Welte, state's attorney, Grand Forks County.


Mr. Rodriguez, did you understand the charges read?


DYRUD: Thank you. Mr. Rodriguez, you have received a copy of the information through your attorney and you have told me that you have heard it and that you understood it. You then have a right to remain silent except to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.

Any statement made by you in open court or to law enforcement officers may be used against you. You cannot be compelled to testify against yourself. You have the right to the assistance of counsel, and you have counsel, David Dusek, attorney at law, Grand Forks, North Dakota.

You have the right to be informed of the mandatory minimum punishment, if any, and the maximum possible punishment provided by statute. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) reasonable bail and conditions or release which will reasonably (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in court.

This offense is a felony so you do have a right to a preliminary hearing. A preliminary hearing is one where the state has the duty to present enough evidence at a court proceeding to show that there's probable cause to believe that crime (UNINTELLIGIBLE) committed and probable cause to believe that the person accused committed it.

You do have a right to a trial by jury. Any verdict of guilty must be unanimous. You may waive this right (UNINTELLIGIBLE) without a jury. You have a right to a speedy and public trial. You have the right to confront and cross-examine the witnesses against you. You have the right to subpoena the power of state for the purpose of summoning witnesses in your own behalf. You are presumed innocent. The burden is on the state to establish your guilt if any by proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Of you plead guilty, there will not be a further trial of any kind. So that by pleading guilty you waive the right to trial by jury or otherwise and the right to be confronted with the adverse witnesses against you.

If you're currently on probation or parole from an earlier charge, a plea of guilty on this charge could result in revocation of your prior probation or parole.

You have the right to appeal the decision by the a court or a jury.

Mr. Gonzalez, do you understand these rights?

RODRIGUEZ: Rodriguez.

DYRUD: OK. This is Class A felony, Mr. Gonzalez...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your honor, it's Mr. Rodriguez.

DYRUD: I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Thanks for correcting me, Mr. Dusek. Thank you for correcting me, Mr. Dusek.

Mr. Rodriguez, the charges of Class A felony, possible penalty could be 20 years in prison and $10,000 fine. Do you understand that?


DYRUD: Very well. Is your address 210 Adams Street in Crookston?


DYRUD: OK. The -- Mr. Brown (ph), do you have recommendations with respect to bail on this thing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, your honor. The state would respectfully request bond be set at -- in the amount of $5 million, assurity or cash. This recommendation is based on the considerations of the court, must make in determining whether or not the defendant's appearance will be assured.

Some of those considerations include the nature and circumstances of this charge of this offense. It is obviously a nightmarish type of offense. It's an abduction. And an intense search is ongoing to locate Dru Sjodin at this time.

As far as the weight of the evidence in the state's control at this time, I'm not at liberty to discuss those specifics. But I can tell the court that this case was charged out with confidence that the state does have a substantial likelihood of conviction (UNINTELLIGIBLE) go to trial.

The court may or may not be aware that this defendant does have a prior record. He is a Level Three offender recently released from the Minnesota penitentiary system in May, I believe it is. He served numerous years in prison as a result of that. And we don't feel he has sufficient ties to his community at this time to warrant consideration under that factor.

Another consideration is whether or not there's a danger to any person including the defendant or to the community. And we feel that this case represents a very classic case of danger. We have repeat sex offender. We feel that the bar needs to be high for the community's safety, and because of the exposure this case has -- to this date received, we also want Mr. Rodriguez protected. Five million dollars, your honor.

DYRUD: Thank you. Do you have any response, Mr. Dusek?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, your honor. I have spoken to Mr. Rodriguez prior to court this afternoon. And he's agreed that for his safety that he should remain in custody at this time.

DYRUD: Very well. Considering what I've heard in this case, this bail would be set at $5 million cash or assurity at this particular time. And do we have a date for a preliminary hearing?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Preliminary hearing date of February 4, 2004 at 2:30 p.m. with Magistrate Biglynn (ph) with a temporary arraignment date of February 6 at 10:30 a.m. with Judge Jenky (ph).

DYRUD: Thank you. Is there anything further for the record today, Mr. Brown?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, your honor. We would notify the court if there would be any changes.

DYRUD: Mr. Dusek?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nothing further, your honor.

DYRUD: Very well. Court is adjourned. I would ask the audience to remain seated until Mr. Rodriguez leaves the courtroom. Thank you.

O'BRIEN: You just saw the hearing. It didn't last very long, presided by a district court magistrate, Harland Dyrud, there in North Dakota.

Alfonzo Rodriguez Jr., a three time convicted rapist, now facing charges of kidnapping in connection with the disappearance of the college student Dru Sjodin which we have been telling you about.

Listening to this with me has been our law enforcement correspondent Mike Brooks. Mike, first of all, what do we know -- not much revealed there about the evidence that they may or may not have against him.


O'BRIEN: What is your best guess on how firm they are in this case?

BROOKS: Well, he said right in the beginning that they said he did agree in the charges of kidnapping, a Class A felony, that he did abduct Dru Sjodin from the J.C. Penney store parking lot in the Columbia Mall in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

Now we know Dru worked at the Victoria's Secret store in that particular mall. So -- they said early on they had evidence putting him in that parking lot in that mall area the date she disappeared. They're not saying what the evidence is. He just said no, he wouldn't -- he couldn't say what it was and they did not say that in the arrest affidavit because it was sealed.

Miles, from what I've been able to hear and what we have been hearing, most likely is that he was seen on a mall surveillance video camera in a parking lot. As you know, most malls have a very sophisticated digital surveillance system that is available to them that they can go back and look at. And it sounds like that's how they put him there.

O'BRIEN: So it is quite possible there is a fairly strong piece of evidence that has yet to be revealed in all of this.

Let's talk about the fact he was released on May 1, repeat sex offender. What is the community told about these kinds of things. Typically they're notified. But not necessarily is a person like this watched specifically by police. Police don't have the manpower to do that, right?

BROOKS: No. In this particular one he was not watched. He went to a diagnostic triage treatment center before he was released. They felt he was not a threat. But he was placed on the Minnesota Department of Corrections Web site where all Level 3 offenders are. And you can go to that Web site, type in your zip code and it will pull up all the sex offenders with their name and address that live in your particular area.

If you go -- the first pictures we saw of Alfonzo Rodriguez was from that particular Web site because he was a Level 3 offend which meant that he had the highest likelihood to reoffend.

We heard yesterday, from one of his past victims, that came out and said she wanted to notify the police when she heard the name because apparently at the time she was 18, Alfonzo Rodriguez was 21 when he raped this woman.

O'BRIEN: This has to be the biggest frustration of all when someone like this, three-time convicted of rape is put out in the streets and as you say, Level Three, somebody who is most likely to do it again.

BROOKS: That's right. The recidivism rate of these people, Level Three is very, very high. And even for other crimes, there are some units back -- the D.C. Police, they had a repeat offenders unit that when people got out they would actually have officers and detectives assigned to take a look at these people, the ones they thought the -- the court system thought would reoffend the quickest and sometimes they did. They followed them and caught them committing another offense.

But a department like Grand Forks or Crookston, Minnesota does not have the resources to do these kinds of things. But we heard the prosecutor say they weren't at liberty to discuss the particular evidence they had in this case, but he said, quote, "substantial likelihood of conviction, if it goes to trial."

So they feel they have enough evidence to convict Mr. Rodriguez should this go to a trial.

O'BRIEN: And we expect hearings the first part of February.

BROOKS: Preliminary hearing, probable cause hearing, we have been hearing this a lot with other cases of notoriety, will be February 4 and the arraignment is set for February 5 in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

O'BRIEN: A final thought here, how difficult is it for prosecutors to prove a case of kidnapping, if it comes to this, if that person is only missing?

BROOKS: Well, that's -- it depends how much evidence they have. They have to look at evidence they have of possible, any DNA evidence, any kind of trace evidence they may have found in the car, the surveillance photos which we -- surveillance video which we think they do have. And other evidence that they have, possibly, recovered through some of the searches.

O'BRIEN: The search goes on. And the legal case begins. Mike Brooks, thank you very much.

BROOKS: Thank you, Miles.


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