August 20, 2014

Legislators pass three bills in response to Kathlynn Shepard case

A trio of bills drafted in response to the brutal kidnapping and murder of a 15-year-old north central Iowa girl last May cleared the Iowa Senate and House today.  Senator Rob Hogg, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, met with the parents of Kathlynn Shepard twice.

“I’m grateful to them for their willingness to come down and share their experience with us so that we can pass legislation that cannot guarantee that children aren’t going to be abducted and killed in the future, but this legislation reduces the chances of that happening and that’s a good thing for all of our children,” Hogg said.

Shepard and a 12-year-old friend were abducted in Dayton on May 20 after they got off their school bus. Shepard was killed, but the other girl managed to escape the hog confinement where they were taken and authorities believe a man who killed himself nearby was the perpetrator. That man — Michael Klunder of Stratford — had been released early from prison after serving about half his sentence for kidnapping two toddlers. A bill that cleared the House would end the practice of giving kidnappers like Klunder who’ve preyed on children time off their sentences for good behavior behind bars.  Representative Chip Baltimore, a Republican from Boone, said it’s what the public wants.

“The plain and simple message of this bill, ladies and gentlemen, is this: Stay away from our children…and if you don’t, you need to go to prison for a long time and serve the entire sentence,” Baltimore said during House debate.

The House bill Baltimore championed also would lengthen prison sentences for those convicted of kidnapping children under the age of 16.

“That tells everyone in the world out there that if you kidnap a child, you’re going to be dealt with severely and harshly and, to be perfectly blunt, quite appropriately,” Baltimore said.

The bill that cleared the Senate today does not end the practice of “earned time” off for well-behaved prison inmates, but it would lengthen sentences for kidnapping anyone under the age of 18.

“And that means it will reduce the chances of somebody being released from prison who can then kidnap a child again in the future,” Senator Hogg said during debate. “It’s a small thing I think this (senate) can do to remember the memory of Kathlynn Shepard.”

Representative Mary Wolfe, a Democrat from Clinton, warned the House bill, as written, could expose some divorced parents in custody battles to the tougher kidnapping charges.

“One thing that will happen….is this will inevitably trigger collateral consequences that may or may not result in Iowa being a safer place to live,” Wolfe said.

Wolfe was one of just three legislators who voted against the House bill that would no longer give child kidnappers time off for good behavior behind bars.

“I would ask that if earned time is no longer doing what it was intended to do — if it’s not good for Iowa and isn’t keeping Iowans safer, then we should address this problem in a comprehensive manner across the board after a thorough review of the relevant research and documentation,” Wolfe said.

Representative Baltimore told reporters he’s willing to consider changes to address concerns about child custody disputes, but Baltimore said House Republicans will insist the legislation in its final form ends time off for good behavior for convicted child kidnappers.

The senate passed a third bill that gives prison officials authority to keep some sexually violent predators in custody if they committed a violent sex crime as a juvenile. Under current law, juvenile convictions cannot be considered in proceedings that lead to the long-term civil commitment of adults classified as sexually violent predators.