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Preliminary hearing yields new information

Some new things were made public Friday at the preliminary hearing in Grand Forks for Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., who pleaded not guilty to kidnapping Dru Sjodin.

Some new things were made public Friday at the preliminary hearing in Grand Forks for Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., who pleaded not guilty to kidnapping Dru Sjodin.

Most dramatic, perhaps, was testimony that blood, apparently in trace amounts, was found on the black folding knife seized from Rodriguez's car in Crookston. Nathaniel Pearlson, a forensic scientist with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, provided the testimony.

The knife was found in the trunk of the car, and was said to match a sheath found on the ground near Sjodin's car in the mall parking lot, as a set that can be bought only at Menards.

While unofficial leaks and rumors had spoken of blood on the knife, no confirmation had come from the official investigation until Friday.

"Presumptive tests indicate the presence of blood on the knife," Pearlson testified Friday. He had disassembled the knife in examining it for blood, he said.

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But DNA testing to more specifically identify the blood will use up all of the small sample, so it's been delayed until a defense expert can observe the procedure, Pearlson said.

Brown explained that several pieces of evidence haven't been tested for DNA evidence yet because the defense expert hasn't been able to be present. David Dusek, Rodriguez's court-appointed attorney, got court approval to hire DNA expert William Shields several weeks ago.

Shields has testified recently in the California Laci Peterson murder case for the attorneys defending Scott Peterson. The Syracuse, N.Y., college professor says that in many cases, the way that DNA evidence is gathered and analyzed is flawed.

Other news

Among the other details revealed Friday:

* Rodriguez was detained - or stayed - at the Crookston Police Department from about 7 p.m. Nov. 26 until about 5 a.m. Nov. 27, while investigators sought a search warrant for his home. Dan Ahlquist, special agent with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, testified that investigators were concerned that Rodriguez would destroy possible evidence in his car or home before they could be searched.

Dusek questioned the procedure, asking Ahlquist at what point Rodriguez became a suspect that night and whether he was placed under arrest; or if not, why he was detained at the police station.

Ahlquist testified that a "very, very slow fax machine," at the Polk County Attorney's office delayed the search warrant process. Polk County Attorney Greg Widseth was at Friday's hearing in Grand Forks, sitting in the second to last row.

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Minnesota District Judge Kurt Marben signed a search warrant at 2:20 a.m. Nov. 27; the search of the house and car began about an hour later, Ahlquist testified.

Rodriguez then was allowed to return home about 5 a.m. He was kept under surveillance over the weekend and arrested on Monday, Dec. 1.

* Rodriguez was in Columbia Mall at about the time Sjodin was getting off work and shopping, until the time investigators believe she was abducted at about 5:04 p.m. Nov. 22.

Until Friday, the only official word made public by investigators was that Rodriguez had been at several stores along 32nd Avenue, near the mall, that afternoon.

But Rodriguez told them he was at JCPenney, Sears and Marshall Field's that day, in the mall. Combined with other evidence, including surveillance tapes at SuperTarget showing Rodriguez leaving, it places Rodriguez at the mall at the same time Sjodin disappeared, Ahlquist testified Friday.

Prosecutor Rick Brown showed a video surveillance photo of Sjodin leaving Marshall Field's store about 5 p.m., carrying the shopping bag with the purse she had just bought at 4:55 p.m., and talking on her cell phone. She was walking from the store back into the mall, talking to her boyfriend, Chris Lang, who was in the Twin Cities. The call ended suddenly, phone records show, at 5:04 p.m., with Sjodin saying something like "OK, OK," to someone else, Lang told investigators.

The photo and call were the last seen or heard from Sjodin.

* Sgt. Jim Remer of the Grand Forks Police Department testified that Rodriguez had cuts and bruises on his hands when first examined by investigators. Rodriguez said he got them at work, but later denied having the cuts, Remer said.

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* There was a bloodhound search for Sjodin at the mall in the first days of the investigation. Dusek asked Remer about a search, which occurred on Nov. 25 or Nov. 26; investigative reports varied on the date, Remer testified.

Did he know, Dusek asked Remer, that the dog was reported to have tracked Sjodin's scent from the parking lot where her car was found along a street for several blocks west of the mall up to a certain garage?

Remer said he wasn't certain of all the information without having the report, and that the bloodhound search, on either Nov. 25 or 26, wasn't "initiated" by Grand Forks police, but came from Polk County.

Prosecutor Brown said the lead was like hundreds that didn't pan out.

The lead was checked out, Remer testified, and found to be not connected with Sjodin.

* Rodriguez loved to fish, and his favorite fishing spot was beneath the U.S. Highway 75 bridge over the Red Lake River on the west edge of Crookston.

Dan Ahlquist, special agent with the BCA, testified that a neighbor of Rodriguez told them of his fishing habits. But he found it telling, Ahlquist said, that Rodriguez failed to admit it during several interviews.

One of the photos entered into evidence Friday shows a fishing tackle box found in Rodriguez's car trunk by Ahlquist and other BCA agents Nov. 26.

The fishing hole under the bridge is significant; it's the same site where a black shoe said by investigators to be one that Sjodin was wearing the day she disappeared was found Nov. 25 by searchers.

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