Lawmakers Push for Federal Sex Offender Registry

Just after 5 p.m. on Nov. 22, 2003, Dru Sjodin emerged from her job at the Columbia Mall in Grand Forks, N.D., and, while talking to her boyfriend on her cell phone, attempted to open the door to her red Oldsmobile Cutlass.

The 22-year-old University of North Dakota student gasped suddenly, "Oh my God," before her cell phone went dead. Sjodin was never heard from again.

After an exhaustive search bringing nationwide attention to a small town in a state that had not had a high-profile kidnapping since 1989, a bloodhound found Sjodin's body in a roadside ditch just outside Crookston, Minn.

Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., who had been released from prison less than six months prior to Sjodin's abduction and slaying, was charged with kidnapping and murder. Police allege he grabbed the young woman in the small university town of Grand Forks and drove her across the state line to Minnesota, where he sexually assaulted and then killed her.

Rodriguez, 51, had completed a 23-year sentence for rape and attempted kidnapping. It was not his first offense; in 1974, he was sent to the state security hospital in St. Peter, Minn., for kidnapping and sexually assaulting two women at knifepoint. He was released from prison on the condition that he register as a sex offender in the state of Minnesota. Rodriguez moved into his mother's home in Crookston, a remote town close to the North Dakota line.

Because there is no national sex offender registry, the state of North Dakota and its citizens had no way of knowing a "level 3" -- or an offender considered to have a "high risk" of recidivism -- was in their midst.

On Thursday, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., will attempt to change that with the introduction of "Dru's Law" in the U.S. Senate.

Senate and House Both Considering 'Dru's Law'

"Dru's Law" would create a national sex offender database that the public can access online, while also requiring state prisons to notify state attorneys whenever high-risk offenders are about to be released. The legislation also aims to require states to more strictly monitor offenders deemed most likely to commit another crime.

H.R. 4, identical to the Senate's version, was introduced in the House on Jan. 4, 2005, the first day of the current 109th congressional session. Lead sponsors Rep. Paul Gillmor, R-Ohio, and Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., are confident of passage and the bill has already been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

Rodriguez pleaded not guilty to charges of kidnapping and murder in May 2004 and U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley announced the prosecution would seek the death penalty.

Kansas attorney Richard Ney has been enlisted to assist in Rodriguez's defense. Ney, an experienced attorney who has worked on a number of death penalty cases, was recently retained by the family of Dennis Rader, the alleged "BTK" serial killer, until a public defender was named to the case.

Due to the sensitivity of the Sjodin case in and around the community of Grand Forks, the jury pool for Rodriguez will come from southeastern North Dakota, several counties south of Grand Forks. Jury selection and the subsequent trial is set to begin March 6, 2006.

If bipartisan lawmakers in Washington succeed in passing "Dru's Law," a national sex offender registry could be in place before Rodriguez's trial begins.

For more information on Dru Sjodin case, comprehensive reports and updates can be found from either the Grand Forks Herald or Fargo Forum:

Grand Forks Herald:

http://www.grandforks.com/mld/grandforks/news/special_packages/dru_sjodin/

Fargo Forum:

http://www.in-forum.com/specials/drusjodin/

Dru Sjodin's Memorial Site:

http://www.drusvoice.com/

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