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St. Paul, Minn. — Saying that he is "fed up" with stories of sexual assault, kidnapping, and repeat sex offenders, Pawlenty vowed to fight next year for a new Minnesota death penalty. The governor says he's long supported a state death penalty, and that the apparent abduction of University of North Dakota student Dru Sjodin has only rekindled that conviction.
"When you have somebody who is raping or attempting to rape a woman and trying to kill them or killing them, in my view that's the type of individual that's probably not curable and shouldn't be out on the streets in a free society. So I'd like to see -- I support the death penalty. And I would support the death penalty in a case where we have a sexual assault and a murder or attempted murder," he said.
The governor's comments come one day after the arrest of Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., in connection with Sjodin's disppearance. Rodriguez is a convicted Minnesota sex offender who was released from custody last May after serving a 23-year sentence for first degree assault and kidnapping.
In addition to the death penalty, Pawlenty says he'll seek tougher sentences for sex offenders; more stringent reviews of those nearing the ends of their prison terms; and increased monitoring of released convicts, including irremovable bracelets that can be tracked by satellite.
Sandra Babcock, a nationally recognized death penalty defense attorney, says she understands the shocked reactions that many have to news of abductions and abuse. But she says Pawlenty's proposal runs counter to a recent national trend away from capital punishment.
"He's swimming against the tide; he's swimming against reason. He wants to take the state back to a time in its history in which, I think the state has rejected the death penalty for many decades. There's absolutely no reason to bring it back," says Babcock.
Babcock says other states have reconsidered their death penalty statutes in light of new evidence on innocent people being wrongly executed.
Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, a Ramsey County prosecutor, says he's uncomfortable with the idea of a government taking its own citizens' lives. And he says there are more immediate questions about Sjodin's whereabouts and Rodriguez's history.
"It should be a time to determine how exactly this man was released, why he was released, how it happened. Until we determine exactly what happened to this missing girl, we cannot afford to be turning it into a situation where we talk about political issues like the death penalty. That's inappropriate," he said.
Pawlenty administration officials say Rodriguez was classified as a Level Three sex offender, the most dangerous category. Corrections officials began a review of Rodriguez in early 2001 and ultimately concluded not to recommend him for indefinite civil commitment once his sentence ran out.
Bill Donnay, who oversees the risk assessment program for the Department of Corrections, says Rodriguez had shown no troubling signs during his prison term.
"The person had been in prison for 23 years, and not shown any indication of an inability to control sexual impulses or no indication of inappropriate use of chemicals. A very good history of behavior during incarceration," Donnay said.
Pawlenty administration officials, however, say they will now recommend that all Level Three offenders be recommended for civil commitment. Offenders in that program receive therapy meant to help them control their impulses and prepare them for a return to their communities.
Last summer, however, Pawlenty ordered Human Services staff to deny any requests for release from the program unless a court ordered them to do so.