FARGO, N.D. (AP) -- Federal prosecutors say their decision to seek the death penalty against the man accused in the death of University of North Dakota student Dru Sjodin had nothing to do with his Hispanic background.
Attorneys for Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., 52, have asked a judge to bar the death penalty on the grounds that capital punishment is arbitrary and discriminatory.
The Justice Department has disproportionately sought the death penalty against minority-group defendants, said Rodriguez's court-appointed attorney, Robert Hoy.
"We're seeking the death penalty for Mr. Rodriguez purely for legal and factual reasons," U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley responded in court documents this week. "Ethnic motivation plays no role in it."
Rodriguez, a convicted sex offender, has pleaded not guilty to a charge of kidnapping resulting in the death of Sjodin, 22, of Pequot Lakes. She disappeared in November 2003 from a mall in Grand Forks and searchers found her body the following April in a ravine near Rodriguez's home in Crookston, Minn.
Rodriguez's trial is set for next March. Prosecutors have announced they will seek the death penalty if he is convicted.
Of 159 cases where the U.S. attorney general has authorized prosecutors to seek the death penalty, more than 70 percent of the defendants were minorities, Rodriguez's other court appointed attorney, Richard Ney, said in court records.
Wrigley said federal prosecutors have followed the Federal Death Penalty Act's requirements and protocol "to the nth degree."
Rodriguez, a native of Laredo, Texas, moved to Crookston with his family in the early 1960s. One psychologist's report indicated he had struggled with English as a child but became fluent by his mid-20s.
In a separate motion, Ney argues that prosecutors should not be allowed to use Rodriguez's record of sex offender treatment as an aggravating factor in seeking his execution.
Prosecutors say Rodriguez refused treatment before he was released from prison. Hoy said Rodriguez disputes that.
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