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Emotional response

Prosecutor Rick Brown's closing argument put an emotional exclamation point on Friday's preliminary hearing that ordered Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. to trial.Brown's words left the mothers of Rodriguez and Dru Sjodin dabbing at tears as they left the c...

Prosecutor Rick Brown's closing argument put an emotional exclamation point on Friday's preliminary hearing that ordered Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. to trial.Brown's words left the mothers of Rodriguez and Dru Sjodin dabbing at tears as they left the courtroom.

At the end of proceedings that dealt mostly with cold, hard, scientific facts, Brown's final words in seeking prosecution of Rodriguez struck a personal chord.

"What this means in a very real sense is that we will hear from Dru Sjodin at trial because she left a message for us," Brown said. "It's a complicated message. And it's intricate. But it's unique, unique to Dru Sjodin and all the world.

"It doesn't tell us where she is now, your honor, but it tells us where she was. It says she was here in this car belonging to Alfonso Rodriguez."

Both mostly stoic until then, both Linda Walker, Sjodin's mother, and Dolores Rodriguez started crying.

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Rodriguez family members declined comment, but Walker and other members said Brown's words rang true.

"Absolutely, Dru will show us the way," Walker said. "She left her mark. It is a mark we will follow."

Jason Nelson, Dru Sjodin's cousin, classified Brown's words as "an impact statement." It had meaning to the family, he said. "She was there; she has more to say yet," Nelson said.

Nelson was among 24 family members and friends who secured seats in the courtroom for the hearing that lasted about four hours. He said he was there for another reason other than to lend moral support to family.

"I'm here to show Mr. Rodriguez that we haven't given up and will keep looking for Dru," he said.

Many of the family members will remain in the area during the weekend to continue searching for clues of her disappearance. Father Alan Sjodin and Bob Heales, a family friend who is a private investigator, are routinely in Grand Forks conducting searches.

"We were discouraged that there was no more information than what we already knew to help us with our searches," Alan Sjodin said. "But we'll keep on searching."

Family members believe the case against Rodriguez is rock-solid. Heales said his investigative experience shows the "evidence is overwhelming." He said defense attorney David Dusek's questioning of witnesses made it look like "he was fishing, looking for anything."

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Nelson said family members wouldn't be opposed to the attorneys cutting a deal that would result in learning about Dru's whereabouts. But neither is the family pushing for a deal, he said.

"The matter has been discussed, but the family has stayed out of the criminal end of things," Nelson said. "Our emphasis has been on finding Dru and getting closure."

The evidence presented included no surprises for the family - no more or no less of a case than they had heard earlier from investigators.

Still, it was trying.

"Sure it was hard, when you're trying to find your daughter and you are sitting right behind somebody who is taking your daughter away," Walker said.

Dru Sjodin's father and mother were sitting in the row behind the three Rodriguez's family members in attendance - his mother, sister Ilena Noyes and brother-in-law Dan Noyes. Courtroom spectators are only a matter of feet away from the defense and prosecution tables, with no barrier in the makeshift facility in the Grand Forks City Auditorium as is in most courtrooms.

During the recesses, two well-muscled jailers stood between Rodriguez and the gallery. Rodriguez sat mostly motionless and expressionless throughout the hearing and recesses, other than brief conferences with Dusek.

Security was tight throughout the building, but the entire process was orderly. During testimony, the courtroom was very quiet as spectators strained to hear the witnesses and attorneys.

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"Today was all a formality, just part of the script that we have to follow," Nelson said. "Our hope today was that Mr. Rodriguez would hear all of the evidence against him first-hand and it would shed some light into his thought process about admitting guilt."

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