The lead sponsor of legislation that would have reinstated the death penalty in Iowa says scheduling conflicts have doomed the bill and it will not be considered again this year. Republican Jerry Behn of Boone has been trying to reinstate capital punishment in Iowa since he was first elected to the senate in 1996.
“I’m hoping we can get it taken back up next year,” Behn said.
Behn’s bill only would have allowed a death sentence when someone was convicted of kidnapping, rape and then the murder of the victim.
“This is an effort to appease some of those who thought, basically, that the death penalty was inappropriate at any time,” Behn said this afternoon during an interview with three statehouse reporters. “After some of the horrific murders that have occurred, I said maybe we can get a consensus to get something back on the books again.”
Behn said he’s especially troubled by the life sentence given to the man convicted of the brutal 2005 death of a 10-year-old Cedar Rapids girl who was kidnapped, raped and murdered. Jetseta Gage’s mother had planned to travel to Des Moines this afternoon to testify for Behn’s bill. However, the senate schedule is chaotic today as senators rush to find meeting rooms and take committee votes on dozens of bills. The room in which debate on the death penalty bill was to occur was double-booked.
Connie Ryan of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa was in the hallway outside that room.
“We had a line-up of people of faith and civil rights advocates and other folks who were prepared to speak and say that Iowa should not ever be a death penalty state,” Ryan said during an interview.
With DNA evidence exonerating some death row inmates and officials in other states struggling to find the right drugs to administer lethal injections, Ryan said it would have been “surprising” to see Iowa reinstate capital punishment.
“States were not getting it right…We know as a nation we’re having these conversation and really questioning whether states across the nation should be doing this,” Ryan said. “…It was disappointing to see the bill, but we’re very grateful that the conversation has stopped for the moment, at least.”
Four other Republicans serving in the senate co-sponsored the bill with Behn. He believes that’s the most support he’s seen for reinstating the death penalty in the past two decades.
“I would truly like to believe we’d never have to use it. To say that I am a proponent…that’s not really accurate. I would just as soon nobody ever had to use it,” Behn said. “I just think it needs to be a toolbox that’s available.”
Iowa outlawed capital punishment in 1965. Three decades later, in 1995, the Iowa Senate overwhelmingly rejected a bill that would have reinstated the death penalty. Only 11 of the 50 senators voted for it.
(A previous version of this story incorrectly stated 20 other Republicans co-sponsored the bill. The correct number is four others, as stated above.)