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$300,000 Settlement in Murder of College Student by Released Sexual Predator

The State of Minnesota has paid $300,000 to the family of a University of North Dakota student who was kidnapped, raped and killed by a recently-released sexual predator. The payment was offered as a pre-litigation settlement before a lawsuit was filed.

The case garnered national attention in 2003, when Dru Sjodin was last seen leaving her job at a mall in Grand Forks, North Dakota. On November 22, 2003 a major manhunt began for Sjodin and her abductor. In December, police arrested convicted rapist Alfonso Rodriguez, Jr.

Rodriguez had been released from prison only a few months before Sjodin went missing; he had served over 20 years for attempted rape, aggravated rape and assaulting a woman in cases that dated from 1974 to 1980.

Police found blood matching Sjodin’s DNA in the trunk of Rodriguez’s car. They also found a knife that matched a sheath found in the parking lot where Sjodin had been abducted. It was not until April 17, 2004 that her body was discovered outside Crookston, Minnesota near where Rodriguez lived. An autopsy revealed that she had suffered “torture and severe physical abuse.” She also had been raped.

Critics charged that Rodriguez should not have been released from prison, but rather should have been involuntarily civilly committed as a sexual psychopath. Since Sjodin’s murder, Minnesota officials have not released any sex offenders from its civil commitment program. Moreover, they have begun referring all Level 3 sex offenders for post-incarceration commitment.

On July 27, 2006, the federal government enacted “Dru’s Law” as part of the Adam Walsh Protection and Safety Act (42 U.S.C. § 16901), which created the National Sex Offender Public Registry – a national on-line database of sex offenders that is available to the public and searchable by ZIP code.

The State of Minnesota settled a claim filed by the Sjodin family in July 2007 for $300,000. “We never talked about the money,” said Linda Walker, Sjodin’s mother. “What we really wanted was something in writing from the state, ‘I’m sorry, we were wrong.’ That’s an important part of the healing on our part.”

Because Rodriguez took Sjodin across state lines, the federal government charged him with kidnapping and murder. On August 30, 2007 a jury found him guilty, and on September 22 he was sentenced to death. Since North Dakota does not have capital punishment, it was the state’s first death penalty case in more than a century.

The Star Tribune published a three-part series on Minnesota’s Sex Offender Program in June 2008, raising concerns about the broad application of civil commitment laws following Sjodin’s murder. There are presently 545 civilly committed sex offenders in Minnesota.

Sources: Minnesota Public Radio, Star Tribune

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