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Home / Wire Stories / Across the Region: MN man’s lawyers raise new questions about rape evidence at trial
Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. listens as his attorney, David Dusek, whispers to him during a preliminary hearing in District Court on March 5, 2004, in Grand Forks, North Dakota. (AP file photo)
Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. listens as his attorney, David Dusek, whispers to him during a preliminary hearing in District Court on March 5, 2004, in Grand Forks, North Dakota. (AP file photo)

Across the Region: MN man’s lawyers raise new questions about rape evidence at trial

NORTH DAKOTA

Rodriguez lawyers raise new questions about rape evidence at trial

Attorneys for a Minnesota man sentenced to death for killing a University of North Dakota student in 2003 are raising questions about evidence presented at trial that the student was raped.

Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., of Crookston, Minnesota, is appealing his conviction and sentence for kidnapping and killing Dru Sjodin, of Pequot Lakes, Minnesota.

In a court filing Tuesday, Rodriguez’s attorneys argued that lab tests show that a medical examiner was “plainly and indisputably incorrect” in testifying Sjodin was raped.

The defense attorneys want to question the prosecutors who handled the case to determine whether they knew or should have known the testimony was flawed.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Keith Reisenauer tells KFGO radio that the government will review the motion and respond accordingly.

 

County can’t veto site of waste-treating plant

The North Dakota Supreme Court says Dunn County cannot veto the location of an oil and gas waste-treating plant approved by the state Industrial Commission.

The opinion upholds a ruling last year by Southwest District Judge Dan Greenwood, who said the sole authority for zoning rests with the commission, which regulates energy development in the state.

Environmental Driven Solutions sued Dunn County in 2013 for denying zoning for storage tanks on property adjacent to the treatment facility, sparking the dispute. Three other oil-producing counties filed documents supporting of Dunn County.

Dunn County officials said the site in question was zoned as “rural preservation,” which does not allow for saltwater storage tanks.

The justices said in an opinion released Tuesday that state law clearly trumps the county’s zoning requirements.

 

Subpoena withdrawn in violent pipeline clash

Prosecutors have withdrawn a subpoena for a man who had been ordered to testify about a violent clash in November between police and people protesting construction of the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota.

A woman was left with a serious arm injury in the confrontation late Nov. 20 and early Nov. 21, when protesters tried to push past a blocked highway bridge near their main encampment in North Dakota. The protesters were turned back by authorities using tear gas, rubber bullets and water sprays. Police said protesters were throwing objects including rocks, asphalt and water bottles at officers.

It’s unclear whether a grand jury is investigating the incident. U.S. Attorney Chris Myers didn’t respond to a request for comment. He’s said in the past he can’t comment on grand jury proceedings because they’re secret.

Steve Martinez, 42, a pipeline opponent from Williston, was ordered to testify in January regarding an explosion that injured 21-year-old Sophia Wilansky of New York. Protesters maintain she was injured by a police grenade; authorities say she was hurt by a small propane tank that protesters rigged to explode.

Martinez said in January that he wouldn’t cooperate and was willing to go to jail. About 40 of his supporters rallied outside the federal courthouse in Bismarck. Nevertheless, a judge refused to quash the subpoena.

Martinez’s attorney, Ralph Hurvitz, said prosecutors withdrew the subpoena without giving a reason. He didn’t know if any other protesters were called to testify.

The Water Protector Legal Collective, a group of attorneys representing pipeline opponents facing criminal charges, said the grand jury is “one piece of a broader effort to criminalize water protectors and to unfairly target individuals in an effort to divide the movement.”

 

WISCONSIN

Prosecutors weighing felony charges against jailers in inmate death

New court documents show Milwaukee County prosecutors are considering felony charges against jail staff on duty when an inmate died of dehydration.

Thirty-eight-year-old Terrill Thomas was incarcerated at the downtown Milwaukee jail when he died in April 2016. Other inmates told investigators the water was shut off to Thomas’ cell after he had flooded a previous cell.

The Journal Sentinel reports a motion filed this week is the first indication from prosecutors that felony abuse or neglect charges are under consideration. Assistant District Attorney Kurt Benkley wrote in the motion that the law must strictly require jailors to safeguard lives in their care and that “stupidity, thoughtlessness, indifference and incompetence” are not valid legal defenses.

Prosecutors are asking for an inquest in which a jury would hear testimony and make a recommendation, which would only be advisory.

 

IOWA

Under court order, hospital discloses malpractice settlement

A county-owned hospital in western Iowa has released to the public how much it paid the husband of a woman whose death was blamed on a botched colonoscopy.

Settlement documents released by Crawford County Memorial Hospital show it and its insurer paid $500,000 to Eugene Christiansen, whose wife, Carole, died in November 2014 after her colon was accidentally torn.

The hospital had refused to release the settlement documents, saying the money was deposited into an estate account that was sealed by a judge. State law bars government agencies from entering into secret settlements of lawsuits.

The Carroll Daily Times Herald and the Iowa Freedom of Information Council took the matter to court. Last month, a judge ordered the hospital to disclose the settlement publicly.

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