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Scheduled hearings in death penalty appeal for man who killed UND student stretch into 2017


FARGO, North Dakota — Lawyers in the case of a man sentenced to death for killing a University of North Dakota student in 2003 have discussed the timeline for his appeal — and it stretches into 2017.

Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., of Crookston, Minnesota, filed a so-called habeas motion, generally considered the last step in the appeals process, in October 2011. Since then, a handful of hearings have been held in open court, including one in Fargo last month to investigate Rodriguez's claim of juror misconduct.

U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson posted an updated briefing schedule for the case following Thursday's closed-door meeting with attorneys. Erickson said a hearing on mental health issues will be set for October 2016 and a hearing on forensic issues will be scheduled in January 2017.

Lawyers handing the appeal have declined to comment outside the courtroom.

Dru Sjodin, from Pequot Lakes, Minnesota, was abducted from the parking lot of a Grand Forks shopping mall in November 2003. Authorities say she was raped, beaten and stabbed. A jury sentenced Rodriguez to death on Sept. 22, 2006. It was the state's first federal death penalty case and resulted in tougher laws for sex offenders.

The nearly 300-page appeal filed by Rodriguez's team claims, among other things, that he is mentally disabled and his trial lawyers were ineffective.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said in a speech at the University of Minnesota earlier this month that he wouldn't be surprised if the nation's highest court invalidates the death penalty.

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