Should North Dakota Implement the Death Penalty Again?

Last week marked the 14th anniversary of the horrific murder of 22-year old UND college student Dru Sjodin. Sjodin’s future was snuffed out by registered sex-offender Alfonso Rodriguez, Jr.

One of the sickening aspects related to Rodriguez is the fact that he had just been released from prison after serving 23 years for stabbing and attempting to kidnap a woman. And prior to that, he had served six years for an aggravated rape conviction.

Because Rodriguez had taken Sjodin across state lines into Minnesota, his trial became the first capital punishment case in 100 years to take place in North Dakota. And on August 30, 2006 he was convicted in federal court for the murder of Dru Sjodin. Then less than a month later – on September 22, 2006 – he was sentenced to death.

The last person to be executed in North Dakota was convicted murderer John Rooney. He was hung in Cass County prison on October 17, 1905– just the eighth person to be executed in North Dakota history. But by 1915 the death penalty was essentially eliminated in North Dakota.

After 1915, the only situations that would have warranted the death penalty in North Dakota would have been treason and murder by someone already incarcerated. But no one was ever executed under either of those circumstances.

The state legislature officially eliminated the death penalty altogether in 1973– the year after the U.S. Supreme Court struck it down nation-wide in 1972. They reversed their decision in 1976, but the State of North Dakota has been without any kind of death penalty ever since.

Had Alfonso Rodriguez, Jr. not crossed state lines with Sjodin, he never would have faced the death penalty. Yet, as it stands today – over 11 years since being sentenced to death – Rodriguez has yet to be executed for the brutal murder of Dru Sjodin. His appeals have moved through the legal system and as of two years ago it was estimated that his incarceration and legal fees had surpassed $1.5 million .

Both then and now, Dru Sjodin’s murder causes many North Dakotan’s to question whether the state should revisit the idea of reinstating the death penalty. And Sjodin’s case doesn’t stand alone as a driver of the discussion.

There’s also the murder-for-hire case out of North Dakota recently featured on Dateline NBC . More recently in Williston is the man who killed 43-year old Vance Neset— the step-son of State Board of Higher Education member and Western geologist Kathleen Neset.

The most recent high-profile murder that gained international attention took place in August when Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind of Fargo was murdered. LaFontaine-Greywind was eight months pregnant at the time. But DNA tests revealed that a newborn baby found with the couple arrested for her murder was indeed LaFontaine-Greywind’s.

Because her body was found in the Red River near the North Dakota-Minnesota border, initial speculation in the case of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind was that it too would be handled in federal court– meaning the death penalty would have been a possibility. But a Minnesota farm house was ruled out as a crime scene making such a scenario less likely.

With these cases – and others – as drivers of the discussion, we are left to consider whether North Dakota should have the death penalty?

There are multiple arguments on both sides of the debate . But for many it boils down to taxpayer dollars. While the numbers range from state to state, research seems to indicate that death penalty cases are significantly more expensive than those that involve life without parole.

I’ll admit that this is a tough issue for me. For many years, I was a supporter of the death penalty. But in recent years I tend to side against it. Not only is it extremely expensive, but since 1973 there has been 160 people on death row who were exonerated after it was found they were wrongly convicted. There also appears to be no evidence that it actually acts as a deterrent.

Believe me, I have no problem with the idea of monsters like Alfonso Rodriguez, Jr. being executed for such heinous acts. But considering the costs involved to accomplish such a thing, I hesitantly am no longer convinced it’s the best way.

What do you think? Is the financial aspect of the death penalty enough to continue prohibiting it in North Dakota? Do other factors influence your view? Is it time to bring it back?





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About T. Arthur Mason 883 Articles
T. Arthur Mason is a native North Dakotan who has spent nearly all of his life in the Peace Garden State. As the third of four children in Western North Dakota, Mason grew to appreciate family and the outdoors. Some of his fondest memories are annual deer hunts with family and friends. In his early teenage years, faith became a central part of T. Arthur Mason's life. He and the majority of his family attend church together on a weekly basis and find this a fulfilling aspect of their lives. Through the influence of his father, T. Arthur Mason became intrigued with politics. As a boy, he attended political events with his father and enjoyed the friendships that resulted as a byproduct of those political associations. As Mason grew older, he became convinced that the quote often attributed to Thomas Jefferson was true, "That government is best which governs least." Today, T. Arthur Mason enjoys time with his wife and children, an occasional hunt, and an increasingly active life on the political scene. This blog is the fulfillment of a dream to design a web site in the realm of politics and to advocate for the principles of Liberty and constitutionally limited government. On behalf of all those that contribute to The Minuteman, we hope you enjoy your time on the site and will share the message with others.