DES MOINES — A slow-moving crush of Senate committees working Thursday to beat an eligibility deadline claimed a GOP measure that sought to reinstate capital punishment in Iowa on a limited basis.
Competition for meeting space and schedules waylaid by time-consuming private caucuses by legislators forced the cancellation of a lunch-hour subcommittee that was to consider Senate File 335, a bill that would have reinstated the death penalty in cases where an adult kidnapped, raped and murdered a minor.
“It’s fair to say that it was executed today,” said Sen. Jerry Behn, R-Boone, the bill’s lead sponsor who has been pushing the issue since he was first elected in 1996. “I’m hoping that we can get it taken back up next year. That’s the plan.”
Behn said he had a “heart-wrenching” telephone conversation with the mother of Jetseta Gage, a 10-year-old girl who was the victim of a 2005 kidnapping and murder. The girl’s mother had planned to testify at the Statehouse in support of the bill, but testimony was called off when the bill was pulled from Thursday’s calendar, he said.
“I had a nice talk with her on the phone,” Behn said. “It’s a heart-wrenching story. I was truly moved.”
Behn said he reintroduced the death penalty bill because Iowa currently has a punishment for capital crimes of life imprisonment but there is no deterrent — in fact, there is an incentive — for a perpetrator who kidnaps and rapes a minor not to kill the witness in hopes of not getting caught.
“If you kidnap and rape someone, it creates a perverted incentive to murder your victim,” he said. “My point is let’s not add an incentive to do that kind of action. Let’s make it a disincentive to further that action. This is a specific attempt to stop a specific type of a crime.
“I think it’s appropriate restitution or appropriate punishment for a crime,” he said of the three-stage limited death penalty proposal. “This is an effort to appease some of those who thought, basically, that the death penalty was inappropriate at any time. After some of the horrific murders that have occurred, I said maybe we can get a consensus to get something back on the books again.”
Connie Ryan of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, one of a number of opponents who planned to testify at Thursday’s subcommittee, said she was disappointed that the bill was filed in the first place and surprised when it got scrapped on Thursday.
“We had a lineup of people of faith and civil rights advocates and other folks who were prepared to speak and say that Iowa should not ever be a death penalty state,” Ryan told reporters.
With officials in death-penalty states struggling to find the right drugs to administer lethal injections and with DNA evidence exonerating some death-row inmates, Ryan said it was a surprise to see Iowa senators looking to reinstate a practice last used in Iowa in 1965.
“The Interfaith Alliance of Iowa is quite pleased that we are not going to have the conversation about making Iowa a death-penalty state again,” she said. “Iowa should not ever be a death penalty state, and so we’re just pleased that we’re not going to have that conversation this session.”
Source: Quad-City Times, March 2, 2017
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