FARGO, N.D. - A judge in the case of a slain college student from Minnesota says closing arguments by prosecutors did not jeopardize Alfonso Rodriguez Jr.'s right to a fair trial.
U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson ruled against Rodriguez's motion for a new trial during last week's sentencing hearing, when Rodriguez was formally sentenced to death. The judge filed a 111-page written order on Monday.
"The court has reviewed all of the issues raised by the defendant," Erickson wrote. "The court finds no error that would warrant a new trial."
A federal jury convicted Rodriguez, 53, a convicted sex offender, of kidnapping and killing Dru Sjodin, a University of North Dakota student from Pequot Lakes. The same jury voted to sentence Rodriguez to death.
Defense attorneys listed 30 complaints in their motion for a new trial, including prosecutorial misconduct during closing arguments in the guilt and sentencing phases. At one point, U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley said a defense scenario was nothing more than a "lawyerly verbal cartoon."
Erickson acknowledged that some statements by prosecutors may have been improper, but said they "had minimal force and almost certainly no effect" on the guilty verdict.
"Aside from the improper comments of the United States, the evidence of the defendant's guilt was very strong," Erickson wrote.
"In sum, the prosecution's closing arguments may have been flawed; however, not to an extent that they prejudiced the defendant or warrants a new trial," the judge said.
Sjodin, 22, disappeared from the parking lot of a Grand Forks shopping mall in November 2003. Her body was found the following April in a ravine near Crookston.
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