ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

m4847 BC-MN-SlainStudent-Sett 1stLd-Writethru 10-16 0598

Slain student’s family settles case with Minnesota government

Associated Press

ST. PAUL — The state of Minnesota has reached a settlement with the family of Dru Sjodin, a college student who was kidnapped and killed almost four years ago by a convicted sex offender who was released from prison a few months before the crime.

The family had taken steps to seek more than $1 million in damages in a wrongful death lawsuit.

The $300,000 agreement — finalized in July but not made public until this week — protects the state from being sued over Sjodin’s death at the hands of Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., a convicted rapist who was released from state prison six months before Sjodin disappeared.

ADVERTISEMENT

Sjodin, of Pequot Lakes, Minn., was last seen leaving her job at a Grand Forks mall on Nov. 22, 2003. Her body was found the next April in a ravine near Crookston, Minn., where Rodriguez had been living with his mother. Authorities said she had been beaten, raped and stabbed.

A federal jury in North Dakota convicted Rodriguez for Sjodin’s kidnapping and killing and sentenced him to death.

The family’s attorney argued in a 2004 letter that state authorities were partly responsible for Sjodin’s death. A state Department of Corrections psychologist had decided against recommending Rodriguez for civil commitment as he finished serving a 23-year sentence for stabbing and trying to abduct a woman.

The settlement — signed by Sjodin’s father, Allan Sjodin, on June 20, and Corrections Commissioner Joan Fabian on July 9 — releases the Corrections Department and other state agencies from those claims.

State authorities also avoided admitting any errors.

"This agreement does not constitute an admission of any liability, an admission of a violation of state or federal law, or an admission of any wrongdoing by the state," the settlement reads.

Corrections Department spokeswoman Shari Burt said the agency already paid the family from its budget.

In a prepared statement, agency commissioner Joan Fabian said she hoped the settlement "brings some closure to this sad chapter in Minnesota history." Fabian said she has expressed her sympathy to Sjodin’s parents "as well as my admiration for their steps to bring about positive change in response to Dru’s untimely death."

ADVERTISEMENT

Though the state admitted no fault, family members said they were satisfied with statements made by state officials and believe they were heartfelt. "We never talked about the money," said Linda Walker, Dru Sjodin’s mother. "What we really wanted was something in writing from the state ’I’m sorry. We were wrong.’ That’s an important part of the healing on our part."

Sjodin’s murder shook up Minnesota’s approach to sex crimes, resulting in tougher sentences and many more sex offenders being civilly committed to locked treatment facilities after they had served their prison sentences.

Fabian referred to the new policies in a prepared statement that said, "We hope these changes will make Minnesota safer for all of its children and will bring some consolation to the family."

Said Allan Sjodin: "As a family, we most wanted to force the state and federal governments to act against these criminals, to pass the appropriate legislation, properly fund it and make the legislation work."

What To Read Next
Fundraising is underway to move the giant ball of twine from the Highland, Wisconsin, home of creator James Frank Kotera, who died last month at age 75, 44 years after starting the big ball.