Earlier this year, a Grand Forks man was sentenced to 25 years in prison for sexually assaulting a woman in her home and threatening to kill her. Now, he's appealing the decision with the North Dakota Supreme Court.
Rolando Rodriguez, 40, began the appeals process with a handwritten note dated Jan. 3, the same day he received his sentence. The case has since been filed with the state court, but a first hearing date has yet to be set.
Bismarck attorney Laura Claire Ringsak has been appointed to be Rodriguez's counsel. Rodriguez represented himself in district court. Grand Forks County Assistant State's Attorney Rachel Egstad will argue again on behalf of the state.
A jury found Rodriguez guilty of gross sexual imposition, burglary, terrorizing and domestic violence following a trial in September. He was found not guilty of an additional charge of intentionally interfering with an emergency phone call.
According to court documents, Rodriguez kicked in the apartment door of a Grand Forks residence early on May 21, 2018. Once inside, he beat the apartment's occupant, with whom he had a previous relationship, resulting in bruising, red marks, bleeding and several clumps of loose hair, according to the affidavit.
Rodriguez proceeded to sexually assault the victim and threatened to kill her with a knife. According to the affidavit, Rodriguez then became distracted by a car horn outside, giving the victim the opportunity to flee. She later told investigators she was afraid for her life and believed Rodriguez intended to kill her in her bedroom.
The gross sexual imposition, which received the most serious classification possible, carried with it a maximum penalty of life in prison without parole.
On Jan. 3, Rodriguez was sentenced to 35 years in prison with 10 years suspended in addition to 10 years of supervised probation upon release. This was the penalty recommended by the state in a pre-sentence investigation report written by Egstad.
There were a number of reasons Egstad recommended the 25-year sentence, according to court documents. She cited Rodriguez's long criminal history, and the fact that he had been imprisoned one month before the May 2018 attack. She also wrote that throughout the pre-sentence investigation, Rodriguez claimed to be the victim and declined to take responsibility or express remorse for his actions.
But Rodriguez's September trial was underscored by testimony that conflicted with court records. Rodriguez alleged that the victim made her story up. In testimony, she also told jurors that she lied to investigators about the sexual assault because she was angry with Rodriguez.
A phone call and multiple voicemails between the victim and Rodriguez while he was incarcerated in Grand Forks County Correctional Center was played for jurors in court. In some messages, the victim claimed she was telling the truth, telling Rodriguez "I don't have any reason to lie," but also told him she wanted the gross sexual imposition charge dismissed.
But in others, she apologized and said she lied to police about the sexual assault. She also said she didn't want Rodriguez to spend the rest of his life in prison.
The voicemails prompted prosecutors to question whether she was lying in her testimony in order to protect Rodriguez. Jurors ultimately found enough evidence to convict Rodriguez of four of the five charges, including the sexual assault charge.
Rodriguez is awaiting his next court date in the North Dakota State Penitentiary. He is scheduled to be released Sept. 14, 2039.