The judge who handed down the sentence of 50 years in prison to Dixie Shanahan yesterday had some harsh words about Iowa’s mandatory sentencing laws. Shanahan, from Defiance, was found guilty of second-degree murder in the killing of her abusive husband, and Judge Charles Smith told Shanahan the penalty of 50 years in prison does not fit the crime: Smith says “this matter is a tragedy in every sense.” Smith says she suffered years of abuse, one person is dead and now she faces a lifetime in jail. None of that, according to Smith, is necessary. Smith says judges used to have the authority to impose sentences based on each individual case: Smith says for years, the court had “reasonable discretion” to take into consideration mitigating circumstances and craft a sentence that fit the crime as much as possible. Smith says by imposing “mandatory minimum sentences,” it’s as if those legislators of 15 years ago were imposing that 50-year sentence on Shanahan. Smith says he hopes some good comes out of the case. Smith says perhaps Shanahan’s case will lead lawmakers to “untie the hands of the judges in this state.” Republican Representative Gene Maddox of Clive, a lawyer who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, says flexible sentencing is appealing but politically difficult. Maddox says he’d personally like to give judges a little more say in what prison time they hand down. But Maddox says even in a case like Dixie Shanahan’s, there may be consequences to that. Maddox says he might not mind giving a judge more discretion in a case like Shanahan’s, but he worries that every accused murderer in the state would argue they’d been repeatedly abused as justification for murder. Meanwhile, the top democrat on the House Judiciary Committee says there is growing sentiment for giving judges more discretion, but Representative Kurt Swaim of Bloomfield says voting for such a change could be political suicide. Swaim says no politician wants to be seen as “soft on crime.”