Tapes of Rodriquez interviews unsealedOn the audio recording, you can hear Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. stumble as he searched for details when investigators told him the movie he claimed he was watching the day Dru Sjodin disappeared from a Grand Forks mall was not playing that day.
By: By Chris Bieri , Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
On the audio recording, you can hear Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. stumble as he searched for details when investigators told him the movie he claimed he was watching the day Dru Sjodin disappeared from a Grand Forks mall was not playing that day.
The discrepancies in that interview, which eventually led authorities to ar-rest Rod-riguez in connection with Sjodin’s disappearance, can now be heard after interview tapes were unsealed Tuesday in Fargo.
The tapes are just a portion of the previously sealed evidence released following a Jan. 9 order by U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Erickson.
The audio recordings include three separate interviews that took place on Nov. 26, 2003, four days after Sjodin disappeared from the Columbia Mall parking lot. Already a convicted sex offender at the time, Rodriguez was arrested less than a week later.
In 2006, Rodriguez was convicted by a federal jury of abducting and killing Sjodin, a 22-year-old University of North Dakota student from Pequot Lakes, Minn. He is currently on death row in Terre Haute, Ind.
Parts of the interviews had been played at the trial and transcripts of the interviews had been available, but this is the first time the audio recordings has been available for public consumption.
The first interview was conducted in a car at his work site in McIntosh, Minn., around 1:30 p.m. Rodriguez told Dan Ahlquist of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension that he made shopping stops at Sam’s Club, Walmart and Target before stopping at Columbia Mall that Saturday.
After leaving the mall, he said he went to “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” at a Grand Forks movie theater.
In a second interview at 6:42 p.m. the same day at the Crookston Police Station, investigators reveal to Rodriguez that the movie wasn’t playing, punching a hole in his alibi.
He remembered specifics about the movie, such as its stars Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek, but the film had actually left Grand Forks theaters two months prior.
“We’re going to do the best job we can to clear you as a suspect in this case,” said Ahlquist, pausing. “That movie that you said (you went to), it isn’t playing there.”
The revelation sent Rodriguez backpedaling.
“I don’t really know,” Rodriguez said. “…I know I’ve seen that movie, but I don’t know what weekend.”
By the time investigators interviewed Rodriguez a third time at 7:49 p.m., they are armed with new evidence after connecting a knife found in Rodriguez’s trunk to a sheath found near Sjodin’s car.
Ahlquist informed Rodriguez that the evidence of his involvement in Sjodin’s disappearance is mounting.
“I’m convinced you didn’t go to the movie,” Ahlquist said. “I’m convinced that you got to the mall at about 4:15 or so, and that you left about the time this girl was abducted. Right down the parking lot from where her car was parked, we found a sheath for this exact knife. All of that leads me to believe that you may be involved in the abduction of this girl.”
Ahlquist pleaded with Rodriguez that it wasn’t too late to tell the truth, but Rodriguez maintained his innocence.
“I didn’t do nothing,” said Rodriguez, who was 50 at the time. “Do you want me to admit to something I didn’t do?”
Attorneys for both sides had a month after the order was issued to object to the release of portions or specific items. Both sides did.
In an objection filed Monday by Rodriguez attorney Katherine M. Menendez, both the defense and the government jointly asked that photos and video of the scene where Sjodin’s body was discovered, as well as photos from the autopsy, remain sealed.
In his order also filed Monday, Erickson sustained the objection, writing “the court finds there is a privacy interest at stake that far outweighs the public interest in disclosure of these photographs and videos.”
Todd Dudgeon, deputy in charge of U.S. District Court, said his office began scanning documents and exhibits after Erickson’s order in January and held them for release until the objections had been made and ruled on.
On the web: To hear recordings of the three interviews, go to www.GrandForksHerald.com/event/article/id/229548
Chris Bieri is a reporter
at the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.