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Rodriguez trial set to start Monday

By Dave Kolpack

Associated Press

FARGO, N.D. -- The judge in the case of a slain University of North Dakota student is promising to keep close tabs on jurors in the trial of Alfonso Rodriguez Jr.

Lawyers were whittling down names for the final panel after the 70th potential juror was added to the pool Thursday morning. Opening statements are scheduled Monday.

U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson said the 12 jurors and four alternates will not be allowed to leave the courthouse during the day. He said he will monitor the group for any signs of jury tampering or discussions of the case outside the courtroom, including "wives that say boo or husbands that say boo."

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"If that happens, I will sequester this jury," Erickson declared. He also said that if necessary, he would "not hesitate to call a mistrial and start over."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Keith Reisenauer is expected to give the opening statement for prosecutors, followed by remarks by defense attorney Robert Hoy. Both men are expected to speak for about one hour.

Erickson said he expects the government to begin its testimony on Monday with one or two witnesses "to sort of break the ice."

Rodriguez, 53, a convicted sex offender from Crookston, Minn., is charged with kidnapping resulting in the death of Dru Sjodin. He has pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty if he's convicted.

Sjodin, 22, of Pequot Lakes, Minn., disappeared from a Grand Forks shopping mall in November 2003. Her body was found the following April in a ravine near Crookston, where Rodriguez was living with his mother.

Sjodin's father, Allen, and her mother, Linda Walker, declined to comment outside the federal courthouse on Thursday.

Erickson approved the 70th potential juror, a man who works nights at a Fargo retail store, after dismissing the first candidate of the day because of economic hardship. The final selection of the 12 jurors and four alternates was being done in private.

Defense attorneys are allowed to disqualify 30 potential jurors, 10 more than the government. Erickson said he made that change to help "level the playing field" because of pretrial publicity.

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Jury selection is the "least scientific part of the trial," said Joseph Daly, a law professor at Hamline University in St. Paul.

"Truth be told, it's a matter of getting a sense of the person," Daly said. "Once you get to the preemptory challenges, it goes fast because the lawyers already have a jury profile."

The 12-member panel is being selected from the first 62 potential jurors who were advanced into the pool. The four alternates will come from the final eight candidates. The list of names will not be made public, Erickson said.

"I think we have a jury that can try this case," the judge said.

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