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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Grand Forks Police Brief Reporters
Aired December 5, 2003 - 15:01 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Any minute now, police in Grand Forks, North Dakota are expected to bring reporters up to speed on the search for Dru Sjodin. Thirteen days after Sjodin disappeared from a Grand Forks shopping mall, a suspect is said to be communicating with investigators, and we may get some word of potential forensic evidence.
CNN's Jeff Flock is watching this story very closely for us -- Jeff.
JEFF FLOCK, CNN CHICAGO BUREAU CHIEF: Indeed, Miles, Kyra. Communicating, but not necessarily cooperating. We are hear inside the Grand Forks Police Department, happy to be inside at this hour. It's a lot warmer in here.
A large contingent of reporters gathered here, ready to hear the latest from both the Grand Forks Police Department, as well as the attorney general of the state of North Dakota, to shed the latest light on this. Presumably, the questions will be about evidence.
As you know, there's been a lot of talk about what is this very strong evidence that authorities say they have against Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. Specifically, a report in the "St. Paul Pioneer Press" today that quoting a source said there is blood found in Mr. Rodriguez' car.
We're going to hear from the prosecutor in this case, Peter Welty, who is right here alongside me, as well as we suspect from members of the Grand Forks Police Department. Look like some other members of Ms. Sjodine's family also making their way in. They've been here throughout.
Her father, Allan, seen over there. And I'm trying to see who else we've got. As we said, we think the attorney general of the state will be here as well to perhaps address larger issues, as well as the chief of the Grand Forks Police Department.
So it looks like Mike Kirby is going to kick it off here. And with that, we'll go ahead and let him speak.
CAPT. MICHAEL KIRBY, GRAND FORKS, NORTH DAKOTA POLICE: Good afternoon. Thank you for attending.
At the press briefing this afternoon, Mr. Stenehjem, the attorney general for the state of North Dakota will speak briefly. Members of the family are going to speak briefly. Then I will step back up and give the afternoon press briefing as to our activities. After that, we'll take a few short questions, and then that will conclude today's activities.
WAYNE STENEHJEM, NORTH DAKOTA ATTORNEY GENERAL: Thank you. I want to -- thank you very much -- acknowledge all of the members of the family. We're not here to make any announcement of any breaking news, but I happen to be in town and I wanted to come before you and acknowledge the tremendous work that has been done by a number of law enforcement agencies. And I think it fair to say, having been involved from time to time with efforts of different law enforcement agencies to work together, sometimes I that can create some difficult moments.
I'm proud to say that all of the law enforcement offices, especially my own, have reported that the cooperation and the efforts of people working together has been textbook and phenomenal. I particularly want to publicly acknowledge the work that has been done by the agents from my office and the Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
We've had, at one time or another, 11 of our agents here, which is about a third of the total force that works for the Bureau of Criminal Investigation. In addition to that, the North Dakota State Crime Lab, who have worked hand in hand on issues with the Minnesota crime lab. One of the greatest pleasures of today was having the opportunity to meet the family that is involved in this case and to be able to draw some strength, to the strength that it is obvious they're able to draw from one another.
Now, if there are questions later on, perhaps I can try to answer them for you. But I appreciate the chance to be here, and certainly appreciate the efforts of all law enforcement and, certainly, the family. Thank you.
ALLAN SJODIN, DRU SJODIN'S FATHER: Thank you. Once again, I want to thank the community. I want to thank everyone that has been involved with the search for Dru.
Dru, we're still looking for you, honey. We haven't given up on you. We'll find you, doodles. Not a problem, babe.
I want to take the time to -- I'd like to thank everyone. We're going to reevaluate some of our options as a family here in the next few hours as far as searching with our people. We want that to be known. And I'm open to questions if anyone would like to ask a question.
QUESTION: Allan, have you tried to contact Mr. Rodriguez, either by telephone or write him a letter and plead for your daughter's whereabouts?
SJODIN: I have not.
QUESTION: Do you plan to?
SJODIN: Haven't really thought about that.
QUESTION: Allan, what responses have -- I've seen in a report yesterday that you've actually seeing him face to face? SJODIN: It was very difficult. I think everyone understands that my focus is still -- and my family's focus and all our friends and everyone that's involved in this is still to find Dru. And we're going to allow the system to take care of Mr. Rodriguez.
QUESTION: Any ideas about what kind of search efforts you do want to do as a family?
SJODIN: We're going to gather this afternoon and take another look at what we can do. We're concerned with the cold weather and everything now. We don't want to get anyone hurt. We've been very lucky with, you know, non-professional people out doing an awful lot of searching. And we want to take a look at what we have for our next option.
QUESTION: Were family members out there today?
SJODIN: Yes. Bitter cold.
QUESTION: What's it, sir, that makes you most believe in your heart that your daughter's still alive?
SJODIN: She has a magnetism and a strength that I've always known since she was a tiny little child. And I can see her waiting for us. I just have that eternal faith.
QUESTION: Allan, how do you and your family respond when you read reports or hear reports of the fact that certain items have been found, DNA evidence has been found, and the like?
SJODIN: You know, that certainly, you know, put a hurt to us a little bit. But on the other hand, we also found some strength off of that, because we know that the search area has shrunk. We were concerned that she could be in who knows where, you know?
She might have been thousands of miles away. So now we have a feeling that she's still in our area. And that's been our faith all along. We can feel her.
QUESTION: Would you rather hear more of that information or would you just as soon not hear it right now?
SJODIN: You know, I certainly don't want to hear anything that's ugly, no.
QUESTION: How have you kept your mind to be focused on this, and at the same time, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) let your mind wander to other things? Have you been able to sleep at all?
SJODIN: It's been difficult. Last couple of days have been a little more difficult. Last night, I got some inner peace and got some sleep, and I am ready to continue with the fight.
Yesterday was tough. Today, I'm back.
QUESTION: Has it been encouraging to you that you've been getting support not only here in the Midwest, but also I understand not only nationally, but internationally as well?
SJODIN: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. There are people everywhere that are supporting us in this hunt.
QUESTION: Allan, on a more personal note, any new thoughts about (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?
SJODIN: I talked with him just a short while ago. They still have not -- you know -- she's still -- she's not had her baby yet, but hopefully soon.
QUESTION: What are your impressions, sir, of the job the police are doing in this case? Are they sharing enough with you? Are you confident that they're putting all of their efforts into finding your daughter?
SJODIN: Absolutely. We draw strength off the police department here, and all of the officials that have been involved. When I and my family members speak with them, you can feel the heart in these folks. So yes, we've had not a problem with the police department in Grand Forks and all agencies that have worked with them.
QUESTION: Allan, what do you think it is about Dru that has just made the country just pull out and pull this attention to her?
SJODIN: You know, she has that magnetic smile. She's very photogenic. But I think it's her inner strength that comes out. That's what I see. That's what I feel, and that's what our family feels.
QUESTION: Does this get harder as each day goes by?
SJODIN: A very tough question. That's one I can't answer.
QUESTION: Mr. Sjodin, do you think any good can come out of unsealing any of those documents or making information investigators might have available to the public?
SJODIN: You know, I'm not prepared to answer that question right now. Thank you.
KIRBY: Good afternoon. As you're aware, there was a bond hearing yesterday, and Mr. Alfonso Rodriguez was read the charges of kidnapping, which is a Class A misdemeanor -- excuse me, Class A felony in North Dakota. Alfonso Rodriguez remains in custody at the Grand Forks County Correctional Center. The Grand Forks Police Department and the agencies involved in this investigation continue to work very closely with the Grand Forks County state's attorney's office to continue this investigation and conduct any interviews that might be appropriate.
To date, we have in excess of 1,400 leads that are continually being developed, reviewed, prioritized and investigated by the law enforcement officers that are associated with this investigation. Yesterday -- or I should say on Wednesday, we had in excess of 1,700 volunteers that assisted us on searches throughout the region. The results of those searches are still being evaluated.
At this time, there are no plans for use of anymore volunteers. However, as we review these searches, if the need arises, we will certainly get back to the media. And we appreciate your assistance in getting that information out should we need to do any additional searches using large scale numbers of volunteers.
Law enforcement wants to continue to stress the importance that land owners throughout the region get out and check their property. We want to also emphasize that that's just not open areas. The same should be said for any small communities, even for the Grand Forks and the East Grand Forks community, for that matter, the Crookston community.
Get out and take an extra second to walk your property. Check your out buildings to see if you can find anything of interest. If anything of potential interest to this case is found, we would encourage you to contact your local law enforcement agency or the Grand Forks Police Department.
Don't touch anything. Let it sit. Get in touch with the law enforcement agencies. Let us come out and evaluate and deal with those items. I want to remind you that there is a reward at this time of $140,000 for any information that my might lead to help us find Dru.
The law enforcement community here in Grand Forks wants to thank the wide variety of agencies. We put a list out a few days back that spoke to the different entities that are involved in this investigation. It's been a significant effort, and without their help we could not be where we are today.
Likewise, without the help of the community. Just the overall response from the business community and from just citizens on the street has been phenomenal. And we just really appreciate that, and it's been very instrumental in getting us where we are today.
Effective 5:30 today, anyone with new information regarding the abduction of Dru should contact their local law enforcement agency or the Grand Forks Police Department at our 787-8000 number. The Grand Forks Police Department will continue to follow up, along with the assistance of the other law enforcement agencies. Any additional leads that come in, we'll continue to work this case.
We are prepared to take a few questions. Thank you.
QUESTION: Sir, before the -- Mr. Rodriguez got a lawyer, was he at all helpful in sharing any information, acknowledging that he had some association with Dru, had seen her, pointed you in the direction where you might find her?
KIRBY: As has been indicated earlier, we have had conversations with Mr. Rodriguez. As to the level of cooperation, I'm unable to speak to that. We are certainly acknowledging and respecting his right to counsel when that's appropriate.
QUESTION: Have you taken Mr. Rodriguez by car back out to that parking lot at the mall have him physically show you, perhaps?
KIRBY: Respectfully, I will not speak to any of the details of the investigation or any of the articles of interest.
QUESTION: Captain, is the reason that you were able to say that there is not a connection between the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) case and this case, is it because you were keeping an eye on Mr. Rodriguez and you knew he wasn't involved?
KIRBY: Once again, that speaks slightly to the details of the investigation and the techniques. But I can only answer that by saying there's been close cooperation between all of the law enforcement agencies involved, including Polk County (ph), and it is based upon the informational exchange that leads us to believe there's no connection between the two.
QUESTION: But he was being watched back then?
KIRBY: I will not comment to the specifics of the investigation or the techniques involved.
QUESTION: Have you been searching today?
KIRBY: There will be, today, ongoing law enforcement searches that are going to be related to any tips or leads that might be developed. I cannot speak to exactly where they may be. They're dynamic in nature and may be very short in nature.
So yes, I feel confident in saying that there are searches that are being done. But they are specific law enforcement searches.
QUESTION: Why have the volunteers been asked to stand down?
KIRBY: I'm sorry?
QUESTION: Why have the volunteers been asked to stand down?
KIRBY: Anytime we use volunteers or anytime the Grand Forks County Sheriff's Office or the Polk County Sheriff's Office (ph) feels a need to use volunteers to search a wide area, once that is done that area is evaluated and the determination is made whether or not we need to expand those types of searches.
We've been given significant assistance by the United States border patrol with their mapping techniques and also their air assets. We apply all those assets and all those results and try to determine where we need to go next.
QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to the investigation left?
KIRBY: As with any investigation of this nature, we've got a long way to go yet. We will continue to work the criminal side, as we have with Mr. Rodriguez. And by the same token, we will continue to work very hard to locate Dru.
QUESTION: Why does sharing information with us... KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: As we told you earlier, Alfonso Rodriguez, Jr. is the only suspect in the disappearance of college coed Dru Sjodin. And during his initial court appearance yesterday, bail for Rodriguez was set at $5 million.
He remains in jail right now. Investigators say that they're trying to get Rodriguez to tell them where she is. But so far, the three-time convicted rapist is not. He's not cooperating.
So how does the public keep track of sex offenders like Rodriguez? Mike Brooks joins us now to talk a little bit about this.
Now, first of all, what's interesting -- we're going into the Web sites and how you can track sex offenders. Rodriguez was actually on a Web site, all his information.
MIKE BROOKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He was on the Minnesota Department of Corrections Web site. Now, in Minnesota, they have what they call Katie's Law. It was passed by the legislature in 2000, that said that basically anyone who is a Level 3 sex offender living in the community, that they were going to set up a Web site for that.
Now, they have different levels. Level 3 is determined to be the highest risk for reoffense. And we've seen it again. This is his third sexual offense that he is alleged to have done. He's been convicted of two, and he's alleged of another one in the case of Dru.
PHILLIPS: And here's the Web site that we're talking about. So if you plug in his name...
BROOKS: You plug in his name, Alfonso Rodriguez.
PHILLIPS: He pops up.
BROOKS: He pops up. And everyone notices, this is the exact picture they were using to refer to him early in these stories about his initial arrest.
PHILLIPS: So what's interesting, Mike, I mean, depending on what state you live in, every state is supposed to have one of these types of Web sites, right?
BROOKS: Right. Back in 1994, Megan's Law was passed. Megan's Law was put into effect, named after a girl by the name of Megan Conka (ph). She was lured into her neighbor's home. He said he had a puppy for her. Lured in to the neighbor's home, brutally raped and murdered by a two-time convicted sex offender.
New Jersey was the first state. Right after that, the governor enacted a law that says, we are going to put the names of convicted sex offenders, multiple time sex offenders on a Web site. Now, by federal law, most states have one.
Different states go a little bit deeper than other states. For instance, Minnesota has Level 3. Some deal with sexual predators of juveniles. But we go into Iowa. Some people say, well, how long are you on one of these sex offender registries?
PHILLIPS: Let's bring up the Iowa Web site. Here it is. It's different from the Minnesota one.
BROOKS: It is. It's a little bit different. As I said, each one of them is different.
But you go in, and the criteria, you're left on this registry for 10 years upon your probation or parole revocation. But if you have been convicted of an aggravated offense, you are on that sex offender registry for life.
PHILLIPS: Well, what's interesting, too, all of us here in the newsroom, we plugged into the Georgia Web site. We could just put in our zip code, our county, and up popped all the names and pictures. I mean, there were streets that were close to all of our neighborhoods.
BROOKS: That's right. Absolutely. They're near by city, by county, by zip code for each state. You can use that, and it's a great tool for both parents, educators, sports coaches, anyone at all.
And let's say you have a youth leader that you're not sure about and you want to make sure that your son or daughter is protected. Go into the site, pull him up, type his name in and see if he comes up. I mean, again, it's just a tool, but it's a very useful tool, as I said, for both parents, educators and community leaders.
PHILLIPS: How long is an individual on a list? I mean, if they're convicted once and they're on the list, they're in the Web site for the rest of their lives? Will they always be in there? And what if they move? Do they re-register or does someone else re- register them?
BROOKS: If they move, most states demand that you re-register with them if you're still on parole, or even after your parole. If you are on one state's sex offender registry, then you're still eligible to be on there if you're under the 10-year rule or if you're on there for life.
You're supposed to register with the specific state when you move. And you're supposed to let that office of the state where you're leaving know that you're leave so they can contact the next state where you're moving to, to make sure that you're on their sex offender registry.
PHILLIPS: Something else that caught my attention. Just looking at this rap sheet that Rodriguez had and all the other times he'd been convicted, what amazes me is that he was out on the street free.
BROOKS: Right. He had done 23 years, had just gotten out this past May.
He had been to a diagnostic treatment center where they did an evaluation of him, and they deemed him not to be a harm to anyone in the community and released him. And he was back out in the community again. Some people just can't assimilate back to the community after they've served time for this and have received treatment for -- he was in jail for 23 years.
PHILLIPS: And you wonder what these individual go through. I mean, how do you deem somebody like that, you know...
PHILLIPS: ... normal, I guess.
BROOKS: But someone in this particular case -- and we've seen so many others in the past -- they are truly predators.
PHILLIPS: All right. Mike Brooks, thank you very much.
We continue to follow the case, of course, and what happens to Alfonso Rodriguez. And also the search for Dru Sjodin's body.
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