Autopsy Confirms: Dru Was Murdered

Dru Sjodin CBS/EARLY SHOW

A preliminary autopsy report concluded that a body found Saturday was indeed that of Dru Sjodin, and that the University of North Dakota student was a victim of homicide, Polk County officials said Tuesday.

A final report will be completed by the Ramsey County Medical Examiner's Office in St. Paul, said Greg Widseth, Polk County attorney. A statement from Widseth gave no detail on how she died.

The body of Sjodin, 22, was found near a county road northwest of Crookston, about five months after she was last seen at a Grand Forks, N.D., shopping mall, where she worked.

"Everything was right, if you will, for finding Dru," boyfriend Chris Lang said Monday on CBS News' The Early Show. "All the snow is gone. It's a new landscape. You can see everything."

The area where the body was found had been searched before.

"With the weather change in the spring here, it revealed Dru," Lang told co-anchor René Syler.

Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., 51, of Crookston, is charged in Grand Forks County with kidnapping her. He has pleaded not guilty.

Sjodin's funeral will be held Saturday afternoon in Nisswa, Minn, a few miles south of Sjodin's hometown of Pequot Lakes. A wake is scheduled for Friday afternoon. Both are open to the public.

Brenny Funeral Chapel in Brainerd, Minn., is accepting e-mail messages of sympathy for her family at its Web site.

Legal experts say the case against Rodriguez is likely to wind up in federal court, where prosecutors could seek the death penalty. The question is whether U.S. attorneys from Minnesota or North Dakota would handle the case.

Because Sjodin's body was discovered in Minnesota, the case could bring a federal charge of kidnapping resulting in death, said Richard Frase, criminal law professor at the University of Minnesota.

"I think it will go federal," Frase said. "Then it's just a question of venue."

U.S. Attorneys Thomas Heffelfinger of Minnesota and Drew Wrigley of North Dakota appeared at a news conference in Crookston on Saturday after Sjodin's body was found. Both men said they would cooperate on any decisions about possible federal charges.

"There are angry and upset people in both states," Frase said. "I'm sure both offices believe there are strong reasons why they think they should handle the case."

Wrigley was in Grand Forks on Monday to meet with Grand Forks County Attorney Peter Welte and other law enforcement officials from the two states to discuss the case's future.

David Lillehaug, former U.S. attorney for Minnesota, said prosecutors should decide which state has a greater connection to the crime. The fact that the alleged abduction took place in North Dakota and that Sjodin was living in North Dakota could put the trial there, he said.

"On the other hand, Dru Sjodin was a permanent resident of Minnesota, both parents of the victim reside here, the alleged perpetrator is a Minnesotan, and the body was discovered in Minnesota," Lillehaug said. "Each U.S. attorney could make a pretty good case."

Joseph Daly, a criminal law professor at Hamline University in St. Paul, said he believes a federal trial would be handled by Wrigley, mainly because Sjodin was attending the University of North Dakota and the crime originated in Grand Forks.

Daly also believes that North Dakota residents are more open to the death penalty, even though neither state allows for capital punishment under state laws.

"There's still a big debate in Minnesota about whether or not the death penalty should ever be instituted, even in a federal situation," Daly said. "Even for this horrific kind of crime, the tenor is such in Minnesota that there's enough people who don't believe the death penalty is appropriate."

Daly and Lillehaug said the appearance of the two U.S. attorneys at Saturday's press conference shows they have likely decided to pursue federal charges. If they cannot agree on who should handle the case, the decision would be made by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Lillehaug said he had seven or eight cases that involved discussions with U.S. attorneys from other states.

"We were able to reach agreements in each case," he said. "But there was nothing this momentous."
  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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