Affidavit paints grim picture
A knife in the trunk of his car, blood in the back seat matched to Dru Sjodin's DNA and a lie about a movie at Columbia Mall were key reasons why authorities arrested Alfonso Rodriguez Jr.
That's what a long-awaited court document released Tuesday by a judge's order said about the evidence Grand Forks police said they had to pick up Rodriguez Dec. 1 at his Crookston home.
Rodriguez, 50, was held in Crookston for two days, extradited to North Dakota and appeared Thursday in Grand Forks District Court on the kidnapping charge.
Much of the information in the affidavit unsealed Tuesday already had been leaked by investigative sources to news reporters over the past two weeks.
District Judge Lawrence Jahnke's order Tuesday unveiling the affidavit fed the pall that has settled over the case of the 22-year-old UND student who has been missing since her cell phone conversation ended abruptly about 5 p.m. Nov. 22 outside Columbia Mall.
In the affidavit, Grand Forks Police Sgt. Jim Remer says a shoe identified by Sjodin's UND roommate Meg Murphy as the same brand and style as that worn by Sjodin Nov. 22 was found three days later under the bridge over the Red Lake River on the U.S. Highway 75 bypass on the west side of Crookston. The first of three mass searches using volunteers was held Nov. 25, and the Red Lake bridge was one of the areas searched carefully by volunteers.
Investigators - keyed to Rodriguez by his being a registered sex offender and a tip that he was in Grand Forks when Sjodin disappeared - first questioned him only four days later, on Nov. 26, according to the affidavit.
Rodriguez admitted being at Columbia Mall at that time, but said he went to a movie, "Once Upon A Time in Mexico," until after 7 p.m., according to the affidavit. However, that movie wasn't showing in Grand Forks that day, investigators learned.
The movie, starring Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek, did play in the Carmike theater in Grand Forks earlier this year near the mall but had left town before Sept. 30, a theater employee said.
Knife in trunk
During a search of Rodriguez's car on Wednesday, Nov. 26, a black, folding, "lockblade," knife was seen in the trunk of the 2002 Mercury Sable.
The car, which Rodriguez bought June 9 from a Grand Forks dealership, was at his job site in McIntosh, Minn., when searched, co-workers told the Herald.
But the knife was not seized during the initial search, according to the affidavit. That's because investigators conducting the search had not yet been told to look for a knife, a source close to the investigation said Tuesday.
The knife fit with a black sheath that had white letters, "Tool Shop," that was found near Sjodin's car - a red 1993 Olds Cutlass - in the J.C. Penney parking lot by UND Police Lt. Don Rasmuson a few hours after she disappeared. The knife and sheath are sold only at Menards stores, according to the affidavit.
On Thanksgiving Day, Minnesota law enforcement officers obtained a search warrant and the car was gone over at the forensics lab of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension in Bemidji. The knife was seized as evidence and blood was found on the back seat and near the rear passenger window and at two other areas of the car's interior.
The blood from Rodriguez's car matched DNA taken from Sjodin's toothbrush, according to the affidavit.
It was clear to investigators that Rodriguez's car had been extensively cleaned, inside and in the trunk, and the knife was found in a pool of liquid household cleaner in the spare wheelwell in the trunk, said a source close to the investigation.
Other facts reported for two weeks in the news media were clarified and corrected somewhat by the affidavit.
Cell phone words
Since the Herald first reported on Sjodin's disappearance Nov. 24, the account of her mother, Linda Walker, on Sjodin's last known words has been widely circulated and confirmed by law enforcement officials. Walker said she was told that Dru's cell phone call ended abruptly with her saying "Oh my God," or "Oh no."
The affidavit, however, says that Chris Lang, Sjodin's boyfriend, said the conversation lasted about 4 minutes - not 10 minutes as authorities earlier had said - and ended with Sjodin saying "something to the effect of `OK, OK.' "
The affidavit first was sealed Dec. 1 by a request from Grand Forks state's attorney Peter Welte, who said he did it to protect the investigation and Sjodin's family. District Judge Debbie Kleven temporarily sealed the affidavit pending a hearing. Normally, such probable cause evidence is a public file at the time of an arrest. Several news media companies, including the Herald, filed briefs last week calling for them to be unsealed.
Rodriguez's attorney, David Dusek, filed an objection Tuesday to unsealing the affidavit, saying the information was inflammatory and would make it difficult for him to get a fair trial.
Judge Jahnke, in his order Tuesday unsealing the affidavit, criticized those who leaked its contents.
"The obvious reasons for the sealing of the affidavit on Dec. 2 were two-fold," Jahnke wrote. "To protect the initial results of a very intense and sensitive-ridden investigation at a very critical point in time and to ensure that credible details about the investigation were relayed to the Sjodin family by appropriate law enforcement authorities in such a fashion that they didn't first learn of them from sometimes unsubstantiated media reports. Since Dec. 2, however, individual(s) referred to by some media as a `source close to the investigation,' have shown a total disregard not only for the integrity of the investigation, but more importantly for the ongoing compassion owed by everyone to the family of Dru Sjodin. If the `sources close to the investigation,' who have been disclosing information contained in a sealed court document are identified, they should be dealt with appropriately."
It wasn't clear Tuesday what "be dealt with appropriately" might mean.
But Welte said he wasn't looking to prosecute anyone over leaks.
"I think the judge had a point to make and he made it very well," Welte said. "We are all on the same team here and I think we can be done with" the controversy over the sealed affidavit.
Illustrating the unusual and highly publicized nature of this case, Welte said he had developed a skin rash, visible on his face, apparently from the stress.
Although he first opposed making affidavit of probable cause public, he welcomed Jahnke's order, Welte said.
"I think there's a sense of relief that it's finally all out there and we can proceed with this case," Welte said. Investigators also said it was a good move.
David "Whitey" Bjerga, agent in charge of the BCA office in Bemidji, said he was pleased the affidavit had been made public.
"It will end a lot of speculation and rumors that were going on," he said Tuesday. "So, it's not just a lot of media-driven things going on, and some theories being sort of passed along. We know this needs to be a fact-based investigation and those sorts of things don't help us at all."
Bob Heales, the Denver private investigator and longtime friend of Sjodin's boyfriend, Chris Lang, who has mounted a separate search effort for family and friends of Sjodin, said he's been impressed with law enforcement's work on the case.
"I think everything has been done that is humanly possible, more in than in other cases with similar circumstances," Heales said. "They have the best people in the country handling this and that's why he was arrested so soon."
Rodriguez is in the Grand Forks County Correction Center under a $5 million bond and has refused to talk to investigators since David Dusek was appointed his attorney on Thursday.
No one but Dusek has visited him, said Gary Gardner, jail administrator.
Rodriguez has visited the recreation room once or twice - alone except for guards - and checked a couple books out, but otherwise leaves his solitary cell only for showers, again under special guard, Gardner said. Because of veiled threats from inmates and the high-profile nature of the case, Rodriguez is being kept from the general population in the jail, which normally holds 75 to 85, Gardner said.