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Rodriguez extradited

An otherwise brief hearing here Wednesday for kidnapping suspect Alfonso Rodriguez was punctuated by an emotional outburst in Spanish from a spectator.

An otherwise brief hearing here Wednesday for kidnapping suspect Alfonso Rodriguez was punctuated by an emotional outburst in Spanish from a spectator.

At the end of the extradition hearing, as reporters and others left the room, a woman pleaded to Rodriguez in Spanish to tell authorities what he knows about the disappearance of UND student Dru Sjodin.

A friend of the family translated the woman's remark for reporters but wouldn't identify her. She said something to the effect of, "For your mother's sake, tell them where the girl is, Tito," according to family friend Ken Mendez.

Tito is a common Latin American nickname, often used as a term of endearment.

The woman, said to be a neighbor of the Rodriguez family, rushed out of the courtroom in tears afterward. Rodriguez remained silent.


Rodriguez, 50, of Crookston, is accused of kidnapping Sjodin. He was in Polk County District Court to say whether he would fight extradition to North Dakota.

Rodriguez was led into the Polk County Courthouse wearing a bulletproof vest, with his legs in chains and his hands chained to his waist. He had spent about five minutes with Polk County assistant public defender Eric Gudmundson.

The two didn't discuss the charge against Rodriguez, but Gudmundson said that's routine for an extradition hearing. Rodriguez was quiet and "pretty impassive" when they talked, Gudmundson said.

Rodriguez consented to the extradition. He was transferred to the Grand Forks jail later Wednesday. Today, he will hear the formal charges against him for the first time since his arrest.

Rodriguez was arrested Monday night in connection with Sjodin's disappearance Nov. 22 from Grand Forks' Columbia Mall.

Families' ordeal

Members of both Rodriguez's family and Sjodin's family were in court Wednesday.

It has not been an easy time for the Rodriguez family. His mother is ill with diabetes, and she has had cancer. Already facing the attention that can come from being one of only a few minorities in a small town, the family is enduring even more scrutiny.


Still, Rodriguez's family wants Sjodin's family to know their prayers are with them.

"We do hope Dru is found safe," said Rodriguez's sister, Ileanna Noyes, while fighting back tears. The family has told investigators "everything we know," she said.

Sjodin's uncle, Lowell Sjodin, and cousin, Jason Nelson, also were at Wednesday's hearing.

"We have a lot of emotions going through us right now," Lowell said afterward. Family members hope to remain in Grand Forks as long as possible to find Sjodin, he said.

"It's going to be a long process," he said.

Mendez, who said he is the godson of Rodriguez' mother Dolores, attended the hearing and said he saw Dolores within 24 hours of Rodriguez's arrest.

"The mother is heartbroken," he said. "The family did everything for him."

Rodriguez has been living with his mother since May, when he was released after 23 years in prison. He had been convicted of attempted kidnapping and rape and is classified as a Level 3 sex offender. Level 3 offenders are considered predatory and most likely to reoffend of those eligible for release in Minnesota's classification system.


Authorities say they have probable cause to believe Rodriguez was in the Columbia Mall parking lot about the time Sjodin disappeared. The UND graphics design senior went missing after her cell phone call to her boyfriend in Minneapolis was abruptly cut off. She said something like, "Oh my God" before the call ended, her boyfriend told police.

Booked in

Transported from Crookston, Rodriguez was booked into the Grand Forks Correction Center at about 4:45 p.m. Wednesday.

Looking slight, with a mostly bald head and dark fringe of hair, Rodriguez handed his shoes over the counter to a corrections official. He was wearing a dark T-shirt and dark trousers. Earlier photographs show Rodriguez with gray, even silvery hair.

Police have said it's clear that Rodriguez has dyed his hair, but they don't know when.

Appearing quiet, even resigned, Rodriguez leaned his arms on the counter in the Grand Forks jail while he was booked in. He answered officers' questions and signed some documents.

Directed by a corrections officers, he stepped away from the counter, and opened his mouth wide for inspection, then "assumed the position," against the counter and was patted down carefully by an officer. He was then led back to a cell by a single officer.

Gary Gardner, administrator of the correction center, said Rodriguez won't go in with the general population.


"Some of our guys already have been saying, 'Put him in with us,'" Gardner said. "We are not going to do that."

He has 77 inmates, about 10 fewer than his capacity, Gardner said.

Evidence secret

Police and prosecutors refuse to release details of the arrest and specific evidence linking Rodriguez to the kidnapping charge. The affidavit of probable cause was sealed Tuesday in district court in Grand Forks at the request of Peter Welte, Grand Forks County state's attorney.

"What we are trying to focus on right now is finding Dru," Welte said Wednesday. "Some of the facts in the affidavit of probable cause could affect our ability to find Dru."

The search for Sjodin and the charge Rodriguez faces are "closely related," he said, although authorities have enough evidence to prosecute the kidnapping charge even without finding Sjodin.

Thousands of volunteers have turned out to search for Sjodin in Grand Forks, Crookston and neighboring areas since her disappearance was reported. The incidence has attracted nationwide interest, and media from across the country have poured into Grand Forks.

Welte said he also requested the sealing of details of the investigation to guarantee Rodriguez a fair trial and to show respect for Sjodin's family.


"There's no need at this time for everything that law enforcement has talked about to be in the public dialogue," he said.

He said he expects the documents to be sealed only temporarily.

District Judge Debbie Kleven, who issued the warrant for Rodriguez' arrest and granted Welte's request to seal the documents, would not discuss the reason she sided with the prosecutor but said she believes her decision was right.

"I thought they had legitimate reasons," she said Wednesday.

The Vogel Law Firm in Fargo, representing The Forum, faxed Kleven a letter Tuesday night requesting a hearing concerning unsealing the document, Kleven said. She would grant a hearing upon receipt of a motion for it, she said.

Also Wednesday, the case was reassigned to District Judge Lawrence Jahnke.

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