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PRAIRIE VOICES: The failure business

Wrigley is a third-generation North Dakotan. He grew up in Bismarck and graduated from UND and the American University law school in Washington. He was an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia from 1993 to 1998, returning to North Dakota to...

Wrigley is a third-generation North Dakotan. He grew up in Bismarck and graduated from UND and the American University law school in Washington.

He was an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia from 1993 to 1998, returning to North Dakota to be executive director of the North Dakota Republican Party.

President Bush nominated Wrigley to be U.S. attorney for North Dakota in 2001.

Wrigley lives in Fargo with his wife and two -soon to be three - children.

Wrigley spoke with Herald Staff Writer Dorreen Yellow Bird.


Let's start with the resignation of U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' resignation. Can you give us any insight on what happened?
From all appearances, Gonzales had seemed likely to stay in office through the president's term.

From published accounts, it sounds as though Gonzales' resignation even was a surprise to President Bush.

There were some reports that the White House chief of staff had said that if anybody wanted to leave, they should do so before Labor Day. That makes sense because it's hard to find anybody to take a grueling, high-level job such as a Cabinet post that they'd be able to hold for less than a year.
Give us an update on the Dru Sjodin murder case. Is there a scheduled date for the execution of Sjodin's murderer, Alfonso Rodriguez?
After his conviction, Rodriguez became the 50th federal death row inmate in the U.S. All death row inmates serve their time in the U.S. Penitentiary in Terra Haute, Ind., which is the only federal death row facility.

Rodriguez's death sentence will be carried out with methods used in South Dakota because under the federal law, if someone is convicted and is eligible for the death penalty, the federal judge has to impose the same procedure used in that state. North Dakota doesn't have the death penalty, so Judge Ralph Erickson selected South Dakota and its method is lethal injection.

Assuming that this case makes it through all the appeals and the death verdict stands - which I expect - then he will be executed by lethal injection.
Can you talk about your feelings after the trial - in particular, the quote where you said you were in the "failure business."
There are public and private aspects of what you do as a lawyer. I have been a prosecutor for 14 years between federal and state. You see a lot of heartache over that time.

People say Rodriguez's conviction must have seemed like a crowning achievement. I don't quarrel with them, but what people need to understand is that my team of lawyers and I never viewed this as a crowning achievement.

I left when my team of lawyers had gone and the courtroom was cleared. I was alone. I walked down the back steps, and I literally could hear the sound of my own shoes going down the stairs to my office. It was pretty lonely.

When I walked into my office, Linda Walker, Dru's mom; Allen Sjodin, her father; Sid Walker, her stepfather; Chris Lange, her boyfriend at the time; and Tim Murphy, the father of Dru's roommate; were there.


I said to Linda I was sorry - sorry there wasn't more we could do.

The next words out of my mouth haunted me for several months, as I wrestled with the events. I told Linda that I never was more sure that I was in the failure business than I was that day.

The "failure business" idea has nothing to do with our objective to gain justice; instead, it's because you realize that your dealing with a situation that is broken and full of heartache - a situation that I can only describe as a failure.

A young girl is savagely murdered in the most brutal way. That's how the case began, and why I'll never look back on the trial and say it's our biggest achievement.

I am most proud of our achievements in prosecuting crimes such as Internet luring, child pornography, narcotics trafficking, illegal firearms, drug running, white-collar crimes and whole host of other matters.

We've had serious budget constraints, yet at the same time, we've tripled the federal criminal caseload in the past five years.

Look at the individual statistics, such as the 500 percent increase in the number of federal drug defendants compared with 2001. That is a statement about aggressive federal law enforcement, and it says we are going to do everything in our power to disrupt the market in our state and region.

We are making real gains in driving up the price of drugs and decreasing their availability. As a result, there are fewer people taking crack or cocaine for the first time. We are trying to keep people away from drugs for their first 18 years of life because if people do that, they dramatically decrease the likelihood that they ever will be addicted.
What are some of the statistics regarding drug use?
The actual drug-use figures in the U.S. might surprise people. The most recent statistics indicate that the percentage of teens who've tried a particular narcotic are as follows: marijuana, 37 percent; inhalants, 20 percent; crack or cocaine, 10 percent; methamphetamine, 8 percent; and heroin, 5 percent.
What about alcohol?
Alcohol figures exceed those of marijuana. They change depending on how you define it. Alcohol often is overlooked: People often say, "He or she is just drinking beer." But study after study shows that alcohol is a threshold substance that can lead to other forms of risky behavior, including ingesting narcotics.


You see a lot of binge and teen drinking in North Dakota. It is something we will have to continue to address. It is substance abuse in general that we need to be concerned with, not just the most interesting drug of the day.

Education is important, too. I think that's why meth use is going down: Even people who are using controlled substances are coming to realize that it is dangerous, damaging and debilitating to their lives.
Did North Dakota's law-and-order problems surprise you when you began as U.S. attorney?
Lots of longtime law enforcement people still find stuff from time to time that makes them say, "Gosh, this doesn't seem like the community I grew up in." We need to remind each other and ourselves that we do this work so we can marginalize unlawful activity in North Dakota.

We live in the safest state in the union. Even when I look at the increases in the number of cases and think there is more violence, I remember that I live in the safest place in the U.S.

Thankfully, the vast majority of people will not become victims of violent crime. But even in the safest state, the crime rate is 100 percent for the woman who is raped, the man who is robbed at gunpoint or the mom who is dealing with a kid on drugs.

That's why people in our office work so hard.
You've been U.S. attorney for North Dakota for six years and have two more years to go. What is down the road? What are you plans for the future?
You're a U.S. attorney until one day, you wake up and the president tells you that you're not a U.S. attorney anymore. I intend to serve in this capacity until then.

Beyond that, I enjoy public service immensely on the state and federal level.

My family is the chief among my responsibilities, but we committed to continuing in public service and if I have other opportunities going forward, I will because I believe in it strongly.

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