October 25, 2014

Group celebrates end of capital punishment

A group that opposes capital punishment in Iowa is celebrating a milestone. Fifty years ago, Iowans Against the Death Penalty got its start. That was 1962, the same year the last state-sponsored execution was carried out at Fort Madison.

The group’s president Dennis Barnum says three years later, in 1965, the Iowa legislature agreed to outlaw capital punishment. “The bill was signed by then-Governor Harold E. Hughes,” Barnum says.

“That’s why we have, on occasion, awarded the Governor Harold E. Hughes Award.” The award this year goes to former ACLU lobbyist Marty Ryan, who in the 1990s helped ward off several attempts by the legislature to reinstate the death penalty. Barnum says there have been many efforts to bring back that form of punishment here.

He says, “There have been a number of attempts over the years to reinstate the death penalty in Iowa and they have all failed, sometimes very closely and sometimes substantially.” Iowans Against the Death Penalty lobbied against a legislative proposal to reinstate capital punishment in 1991 and again in ’95, ’97, and ’98.

Barnum says they don’t expect a renewed effort under the current divided legislature. At the group’s awards banquet over the weekend, the featured speaker was a legal affairs journalist who wrote about the elimination of the death penalty in Illinois.