DES MOINES — Eight Republicans on a state senate committee have narrowly approved a bill that would reinstate the death penalty for people convicted of kidnapping, raping and murdering a child in Iowa.
Senator Jake Chapman, a Republican from Adel, said polls show Iowans support the death penalty in these cases. “We’re talking about the most heinous acts that can happen here in Iowa,” Chapman said. “There isn’t anything much worse than what we’re discussing.”
Senator Kevin Kinney, a Democrat from Oxford, is a retired Johnson County Deputy. He investigated the 2005 kidnapping, rape and murder of 10-year-old Jetseta Gage of Cedar Rapids — and Kinney said he’s visited the cell of Roger Bentley, the girl’s killer who was sentenced to life in prison.
“He is living a deplorable life…If we kill him, that would be a gift to him,” Kinney said. “…I want him to sit in there and rot for the rest of his life.”
Senator Jason Schultz, a Republican from Schleswig, said the death penalty is about justice for victims.
“I believe the death penalty is pro-life because I’m worried about the victim. I’m not worried about the perpetrator,” Schultz said. “I think the perpetrator made his own decisions.”
Senator Rob Hogg, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids who joined all Democrats in the committee in opposing the bill, quoted from the Bible.
“‘Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who desires not the death of sinners, but rather that they would turn from their wickedness and live,’” Hogg said. “If you kill somebody, that person has no opportunity to repent.”
Senator Schultz responded by quoting from Genesis.
“‘If a man sheds blood, then his blood shall be shed by man,’” Schultz said. “…It is for this reason that government bears the flaming sword — to implement justice.”
Senator Tony Bisignano, a Democrat from Des Moines, said the death penalty is about vengeance.
“Any murder is heinous, but we’re a civilized society and I think life in prison without parole truly is a punishment,” Bisignano said. “I think, to me, it’s more punishing.”
And Bisignano raised the specter of wrongful convictions that have lead other states to execute the innocent. Senator Julian Garrett, a Republican from Indianola, responded.
“We can be pretty sure when we’ve got DNA evidence that we’re going the right thing,” Garrett said.
The Senate’s Republican leader has not indicated whether the bill will be scheduled for debate in the senate. The bill has 20 Republican co-sponsors, but 26 “yes” votes are required to pass bills in the senate.
AUDIO of Senate Judiciary Committee debate of bill, 27:00