A committee in the Iowa House has endorsed a bill that would impose the death penalty on those who kidnap, rape and murder children. Representative James Van Fossen, a Republican from Davenport, says if the bill had been law last month, Roger Bentley — the man convicted of kidnapping, raping and murdering 10-year-old Jetseta Gage of Cedar Rapids last spring — could have been sentenced to death.
“I’ve listened to constituents at forums. I’ve listened to people on the radio. I’ve read editorials,” Van Fossen says. “I think the majority of Iowans want to see us debate this issue.”
Representative Vicki Lensing, a Democrat from Iowa City, says life in prison is “just” punishment and the state should not “meet violence with violence.”
“No one should ever be killed, not even by the state,” Lensing says.
After a half-hour-long debate, the House Judiciary Committee voted 12-to-eight in favor of the death penalty bill. Representative Dwayne Alons (uh-LAWNZ), a Republican from Hull, was one of the “yes” votes. “If we look back across history…all the nations of the world have had the death penalty on their law books throughout most of their recorded history,” Alons says. “The death penalty remains on the statute books of about half the nations of the world today.”
Representative Kurt Swaim, a Democrat from Bloomfield, says 80 percent of the executions in the world are performed in the U-S, China, Iran and Vietnam, and that’s “pretty uncomfortable” company. “The issue for me is not whether the person deserves the death penalty. I believe as a matter of personal conviction, as a matter of my personal faith, that those persons will get what they deserve. The issue for me is who will infliect the punishment,” Swaim says. “The issue for me is what is does to us as a society if we serve as the executioner.”
Representative Joe Hutter, a Republican from Bettendorf, is a retired cop who says he’s among the few who have ever seen the body of a murdered child, and he says those child-murderers should be put to death. “There are some people in this world — maybe they’re called human beings — but most of you know, as I do, there are some people who don’t deserve to be human beings,” Hutter says.
Representative Ro Foege, a Democrat from Mount Vernon, was one of the “no” votes. “I believe it is wrong for the state to sanction murder and that’s what the death penalty by the state would be: state-sanctioned murder,” Foege says. “I think that the state sanctioning murder…moves us toward a more barbaric society rather toward a move civil society.”
Representative Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, a Democrat from Ames, says she is morally opposed to the death penalty. “Frankly, I will not play God,” Wessel-Kroeschell says. “I will not choose when, where and how someone should die no matter how dispicable I find that individual.”
Representative Danny Carroll, a Republican from Grinnell, says the Bible tells him of the need for government to administer justice. “Think about what the word justice means,” Carroll says. “It is not often pleasant and it is very often not easy, but for me justice requires at least the possibility of giving one’s own life if one knowingly and maliciously takes the life of another.”
It is unclear when or even if House leaders will bring the bill up for debate in the full, 100-member House.