FARGO - A pair of evidentiary hearings in Alfonso Rodriguez Jr.'s appeal of his death sentence have been delayed again.
An evidentiary hearing on forensic issues in the murder case was to start Tuesday, March 28, but it's now set to begin June 20. Seven days have been allotted for testimony, but only four days may be needed, court records stated.
Another evidentiary hearing, focused on Rodriguez's mental health, was set for June 20 and could last four days or more. But that hearing will be moved to a later date, court records stated.
U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson delayed the two hearings at a March 15 status conference in Fargo's federal court after prosecutor Keith Reisenauer told him the deposition of Robert Hoy, one of Rodriguez's trial attorneys, had not been finished. The deposition, now set for Tuesday, March 28, had been postponed because Hoy had a family emergency, court records stated.
It's the second delay of the evidentiary hearings, which were initially set for October 2016 and January 2017. The hearings could be the longest period of testimony seen in the case since the trial that resulted in Rodriguez's conviction in 2006.
Rodriguez, 64, of Crookston was sentenced to death for the 2003 kidnapping, rape and murder of 22-year-old Dru Sjodin, a University of North Dakota student abducted in Grand Forks. In 2011, attorneys filed a habeas corpus motion to appeal Rodriguez's death sentence. Considered a last-resort appeal after his direct appeals were turned down by the U.S. Supreme Court, the motion argues he is mentally disabled and was insane at the time of the crime, making him ineligible for the death penalty.
In a motion filed this month, Rodriguez's attorneys claimed that prosecutors presented false testimony against him, arguing test results presented by a medical examiner did not prove Sjodin was raped.
The motion seeks to have Drew Wrigley, former North Dakota lieutenant governor and the lead prosecutor during Rodriguez's trial, testify on whether he knowingly presented false information on the case. If the judge rules in the defense's favor, Rodriguez's attorneys could question Wrigley, who argued rape as a reason for the death sentence.
A hearing on the motion is set for Wednesday, March 29. It's unclear whether the issues raised in the motion will be discussed during the upcoming evidentiary hearings.