The leader of the Senate Republican minority is pushing to reinstate a limited death penalty in Iowa for any adult who kills a minor in the commission of a rape or kidnapping.
Majority Democrats say it's a political ploy to interject a distracting social issue during a session focused on job creation and reforming the state's property tax, education and mental-health systems.
Senate Republican leader Jerry Behn of Boone said he introduced the death-penalty measure this session as he has done in previous years as a way to deter perpetrators of class A felonies in Iowa from killing their minor victims who may later identify them or testify against them.
"In essence, it is an incentive in Iowa right now to murder your victim so there are no witnesses," Behn said. "This adds a level to that to provide a disincentive."
Senate File 2095 would establish effective Jan. 1, 2013, a two-tiered judicial process for criminals -- charged with kidnapping and/or raping a victim under the age of 18 and then killing the minor -- who are later convicted of at least two Class A offenses currently punishable by life prison terms. A separate court proceeding would be held to determine whether the perpetrator would be executed using lethal injection.
The bill provides for an automatic review of any death-penalty sentence by the Iowa Supreme Court. To be eligible for capital punishment, a convicted defendant would have to be at least 18 years of age at the time the offenses were committed, must not be mentally ill or mentally retarded, and would have to "have been a major participant in the commission of the crime or must have shown a manifest indifference to human life," according to the proposed legislation.
Sen. Eugene Fraise, D-Fort Madison, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Tuesday he already has decided S.F. 2095 will not be considered in committee this session.
"We won't take it up," he said. "This issue's been around for a long time. It's been turned down."
Fraise noted that Republicans controlled both chambers of the General Assembly during Branstad's 4th term and did not debate the capital punishment issue.
"It seems to me like it's a political gimmick (for Republicans) to say they (Democrats) wouldn't bring up the death penalty," he said. "They've had their chances over the years to do it, but I won't support it. We've always said that we sentence people to death in the institutions. They spend the rest of their life there until they die there. To me, it's a far harsher sentence than just the death penalty. They have to think about what they did forever, so that to me is a far harsher penalty than the death penalty."
Branstad said he supports a limited death penalty in circumstances involving multiple Class A felonies as a deterrent for someone already facing a life prison sentence "from killing more people, figuring that improves their chance of getting away with it or killing the rape or kidnap victim."
The governor, a Boone Republican currently in the second year of his fifth, four-year term, said he chose not to include a death-penalty proposal in his 2012 legislative package because "I don't think it's going to go anywhere in the Senate. I want to focus on things that we can get done."
Capital punishment ended in Iowa in February 1965. The last person put to death under Iowa's former capital-punishment statute was Victor Feguer, who was executed in March 1963 for killing a Dubuque doctor.
(source: Sioux City Journal)