IDEAL TOWNSHIP — Linda Walker has fielded more than her fair share of personal losses.
Her daughter, Dru Sjodin, a 2000 Pequot Lakes High School graduate, was abducted, raped and murdered by a convicted sex offender on Nov. 22, 2003.
Since that time Walker has lost her father and mother-in-law. In July, she lost her mother.
She then watched the health of her husband — her “rock” — Sid Walker, rapidly decline after her mother died and she lost him, too, on Sept. 4.
Sid Walker was diagnosed with colon cancer about seven years ago, not long after Sjodin was abducted. But always the gentleman, he tried to keep his cancer diagnosis a secret from his wife as she and thousands of others were trying to find Sjodin, who went missing from a Grand Forks, N.D., shopping mall on Nov. 22, 2003. Her body was found in a ravine near Crookston in April 2004.
While Linda Walker is now searching to uncover what the next chapter of her life will bring, she won’t have closure on the last eight painful years until the fate of her daughter’s killer is ultimately decided.
A breaking point came last week when Alfonzo Rodriguez, the man who killed her daughter, and his defense team filed a new last-ditch final appeal of his death sentence, a habeas corpus motion filed in federal court that could take up to a year for additional rounds of court appeals all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court denied his direct appeals last year.
This final appeal asks the court to vacate Rodriguez’s death sentence and give him a new trial.
While the final appeal wasn’t entirely unexpected, Walker was left reeling when the 300-page court document provided “new details” about her daughter’s lasthours with her killer. The document includes claims from Rodriguez, 58, who apparently confided in a psychiatrist that he had confused Sjodin with a college girl whom he said sexually abused him at a camp when he was 6.
The document claims seeing Sjodin at the mall triggered Rodriguez’s post-traumatic stress
disorder, that Rodriguez was temporarily insane, that he also was “[filtered word]” and that he never intended to take her life.
For the first time, it also gives Rodriguez’s account of how he killed Sjodin:
“At one point, when he was driving around town with her in the car, she began to struggle and bang on the windows. He tried to subdue her, struggled with her and eventually hit her, knocking her out and drawing blood. Once she was bleeding from the face and unconscious, he put a plastic bag over her head to contain the blood and he wrapped it with a piece of cord. His memories of this time are very fragmented, consistent with a dissociative episode. And, his description of his thinking at the time is chaotic and illogical. He does not remember exactly when he realized she was dead, but he knows that he then panicked and drove around looking for a place to put her body,” according to his psychiatrist.
The document also disputes forensic evidence that Sjodin was raped and her throat slashed with a knife.
Walker was outraged that it seemed the defense team was searching for a sympathetic ear for the man who hasn’t ever apologized or expressed remorse for killing her daughter. Instead, he was trying to save himself.
“He’s done nothing but lie and blame everybody his entire life,” said Walker. “And now he’s come out with a fictional history of the last day of Dru’s life. ... I know he hit her. She had a horrible bruise on the side of her head and a horrible bruise where he grabbed her.”
When Walker read a news story about the latest appeal, in which Rodriguez said he didn’t mean to kill her daughter, it hit her hard.
“I spent the whole day sobbing over it,” Walker said through tears in an interview this week. “It was like a sucker punch. ‘I didn’t mean to kill her?’ Well then, what did you mean when you took out a knife and stuck it through her throat? It’s once again about him and not the victims. I think the focus needs to remain on his victims and what Alfonzo Rodriguez chose to do.”
Walker said during jury selection for Rodriguez’s murder trial he would grab up the one-page informational sheets on any blonde female prospective juror to read about her. She doesn’t buy that Rodriguez didn’t know what he was doing when he killed her daughter.
“I’m angered by a system that gives those who chose to prey second, third and fourth chances,” Walker said. “What are we telling our victims?”
Walker said the forensic evidence showed that her daughter was killed in the ravine, not in the car as Rodriguez claims. Those last hours of her daughter’s life are a continual source of pain for her. Prosecutors in the case believe Rodriguez abducted Sjodin, raped her, drove her to a remote field near Crookston and slashed her throat, leaving her to bleed to death.
“He’s had eight years to plead for his life,” said Walker. “I’m sure he didn’t give Dru even eight minutes to plead for hers.”
Walker said it is difficult to come home to an empty house. She has Izzy, the dog she gave her late husband six years ago as a companion for when she was out of town for speaking engagements or meetings with the Surviving Parents Coalition, an organization she helped found.
“He was my rock through all of this,” she said of her husband, Sid. They used to play Scrabble, sometimes as often as three times a day, when he wasn’t feeling well.
But through all she’s been through, she has tried to retain her sense of humor.
“I play Mahjong now, a Chinese game, because I don’t have my Scrabble partner here to play with,” said Walker. “And Izzy is terrible at it.”
Walker is looking for a job. She speaks to her son, Sven Sjodin, who lives in California, up to five times a day. He and his wife have given her five beautiful blonde grandchildren, ages 1-8.
Walker said she has a supportive network of friends and she’s continuing to focus her energy on raising awareness about violence against women and children. In addition to her work with the Surviving Parents Coalition, she’s a board member for radKIDS, Inc., a personal empowerment safety education program she’s hoping to bring to lakes area school children.
She helped Congress create Dru’s Law, requiring sexual predators to be listed on a national database. Last March Walker was recognized by the FBI for her work performed in her daughter’s memory.
Walker said she plans to be there, in Terre Haute, Ind., when her daughter’s killer is eventually put to death. She believes one day this will happen. She continues to feel her daughter’s presence in her life.
“Many days when I feel I can’t do something, she takes my hand and helps me along,” Walker said with a smile. “I have my good days and my OK days. What propels me to do what I do is her last three hours with a human being that had no regard for life, for young women, and for Dru. I feel it’s the least I can do for her. I feel her always pushing me, ‘Mom, you have to.’”
Oct. 19 would have been Linda and Sid Walker’s 22nd anniversary.
Dru Sjodin would have turned 30 on Sept. 26.
JODIE TWEED may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.