Republican senators pressing for a vote on the death penalty today got the help of a spokesman for the family of the Cedar Rapids girl who was kidnapped, molested and murdered by a convicted sex offender. Leo Williams of Cedar Rapids, a distant cousin of Jetseta Gage, spoke at a statehouse news conference this (Tuesday) morning. “We’d just like to thank everybody who prayed, just kept hope alive. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the end result we really wanted,” Williams says. “On behalf of the family, we do support the new, limited death penalty bill.” The proposal would reestablish a death penalty in Iowa for those convicted of kidnapping or raping a child, then killing that child. “The torture and punishment Jetseta got Jetseta never deserved,” Williams says. “She was a 10 year old girl, prime of her life…(when) most little girls would be out doing little girl stuff, she was taken away from all that.” Williams declined to answer specific questions about the case, citing the possibility of child endangerment charges being filed against Jetseta’s mother. But Williams say he’s always been a backer of the death penalty. “The family’s just really hurting right now and I think just knowing that we have the opportunity to bring something positive somehow out of all this would really mean a lot to the family,” Williams says. He says enacting the death penalty won’t bring Jetseta back. “The family understands the person who is being charged with this — it isn’t going to affect him — but if it could make things easier, god forbid, for the next family, that’s what the family would hope,” Williams says. But Senate Co-Leader Mike Gronstal, a Democrat from Council Bluffs, says he will not allow a death penalty debate in the Senate. “Let me say our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the family of the victim…we take this crime very seriously,” Gronstal says. He says Democrats will continue to pursue ways to ensure children are safe, but the death penalty is not part of that equation. Gronstal says there’s no “common ground” on the death penalty, so he’ll block debate of the issue. Gronstal says there aren’t 26 votes to pass a death penalty bill in the Senate, there aren’t 51 votes to pass the bill in the House and Governor Vilsack won’t sign it into law. “None of those things will happen so this is an exercise in politics, not in policy,” Gronstal says. He says it costs less to put someone in prison for life than to sentence them to death as death penalty cases are very expensive to prosecute.
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