[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----IOWA, PENN., TENN.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Apr 25 11:18:49 CDT 2005
Majority of Iowans back death penalty
A new poll shows a rise in support after the rape and murder of a
10-year-old Cedar Rapids girl in March.
2/3 of Iowans want to bring back the death penalty - an emotionally
charged issue that has resurfaced at the Statehouse as lawmakers debate
proposals to strengthen laws against child molesters.
A new Des Moines Register poll shows 67 % of the state's adults favor re-
instatement of capital punishment for certain crimes.
Iowa's death penalty law was repealed 40 years ago.
"There are crimes that are so heinous that I would say something like an
eye for an eye," said poll participant Nikki Burnough, a 58-year-old Des
Moines school district employee.
Burnough, a Democrat, would reimpose the death penalty for serial killers
and those who rape and murder a child, as in the case of Jetseta Gage, the
10-year-old Cedar Rapids girl whose death late last month has reignited
A 30 % minority of Iowans in the poll are opposed to bringing back the
death penalty. That leaves 3 % who are undecided.
Death penalty opponent Philip Cripps, a 54-year-old medical technologist
from DeWitt in eastern Iowa, said he doesn't believe the punishment would
deter murderers and rapists.
Cripps, a political independent, is also against capital punishment on
religious grounds. "I don't believe the state should take the lives of
someone outside a war situation," he said.
"There's also a practical issue," he added. "I understand it's very
expensive to move people through the death penalty phase" of a trial and
Overall support for the death sentence in Iowa had been eroding, dropping
from 81 % approval in a 1993 Iowa Poll to 74 % in 1997 to 59 % in 2001.
The upturn in support in the new poll comes in the wake of the Gage case.
Roger Paul Bentley, 37, is accused of taking the girl from her Cedar
Rapids home to an abandoned Johnson County mobile home, sexually
assaulting her and asphyxiating her. Her brutal death sparked calls from
some Republican legislators to reinstate the death penalty for certain
Democrats complained that Republicans were just trying to score political
points, knowing there is no chance that the Legislature and governor would
approve a capital punishment bill this year.
Senate GOP leaders favor a limited capital punishment law like the one
recommended during the 1990s by former Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican.
Arguing it would serve as a deterrent, they want to make the death penalty
a sentencing option for people who commit 2 or more Class A felonies,
including kidnapping, rape and murder.
Senate Democratic leader Michael Gronstal of Council Bluffs has repeatedly
vowed to block such a debate if Republicans try to attach a capital
punishment proposal to a high-priority bill that would lengthen prison
sentences and require more treatment and supervision for sex offenders.
Democrats share power with Republicans in the Senate, split 25-25.
Republicans have the edge in the House, 51-49.
The Iowa Poll shows backing for the death penalty is fairly broad-based.
However, there are some soft spots in that support:
- While 73 % of Protestants want to bring back the death sentence, support
diminishes to 50 % among Catholics. Among those who describe themselves as
fundamentalist Christians, 79 % favor capital punishment.
- A 53 % majority of Democrats favor reinstatement of the death penalty.
Support climbs to 78 % among Republicans and 70 percent among
- Support is a little less solid among Iowans with college degrees,
dipping to 56 %.
The last major death penalty debate in the Legislature took place in 1995
. The House approved, 54-44, a capital punishment bill that was broader
than Branstad's plan. On an 39-11 vote, the Senate rejected the
legislation, which would have made the death penalty available for crimes
including the murder of a child, police officer or prison guard, and
murder marked by "exceptional depravity."
Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat, argues that the death penalty is not
necessary because those convicted of 1st-degree murder are already
sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Executions in Iowa
The last person executed at an Iowa prison was Victor Feguer, a drifter
convicted on federal charges for kidnapping and murdering a Dubuque
Feguer was hanged at the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison in 1963.
2 years later, the Legislature repealed the state's capital punishment law
with the support of a majority of Iowa adults, according to a Des Moines
Register poll taken at the time. The poll found that Iowans favored ending
capital punishment, 57 % to 30 %.
The last 2 people convicted under state law were put to death in 1962.
In a federal case tried last year, Dustin Honken, a 36-year-old
methamphetamine maker from Britt, was sentenced to death in connection
with the murder of 5 people, including 2 children, in 1993.
(source: Des Moines Register)
Death penalty opponent to speak at St. Francis graduation
Sister Helen Prejean, the Roman Catholic nun whose campaign against the
death penalty and work with death row inmates was chronicled in a
best-selling book and an Oscar-winning movie, will speak to graduates at a
western Pennsylvania university next month.
Prejean, the author of "Dead Man Walking," which was made into a movie
starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn, will be the commencement speaker
May 8 at St. Francis University, one of the oldest Catholic coed
universities in the nation.
4 years ago, the graduating class read "Dead Man Walking" as freshmen.
"We asked Sister Helen to come an address the class and put a closure to
that," said Kirk Dodson, a spokesman for the university, which has about
Prejean, 65, of New Orleans, who belongs to the Sisters of St. Joseph of
Medaille and lives in New Orleans, has served as spiritual adviser to 6
death row inmates.
(source: Associated Press)
Waiting stirs both sides of death-row argument----While some say it takes
-too long, others say delay is 'necessary evil'
Tennessee hasn't had an execution in 5 years, sparking debate among some
who say extra time should be taken to avoid mistakes, while others believe
the long stints take an emotional toll on families awaiting the fate of a
convicted inmate on death row.
Observers thought the execution of child rapist and murderer Robert Glen
Coe by lethal injection in 2000 - the state's 1st in 40 years - would lead
to others, but no one's been executed since.
Those who say Tennessee's execution process is slow point to statistics
from the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C., which show
neighboring Southern states surpass Tennessee in the number of executions
carried out over the last 29 years. The only Southern state close to
Tennessee is Kentucky, where there have been 2 executions since 1976 and
where there are 36 inmates on death row.
But attorney George Googe, public defender for the 26th Judicial District,
said it's wise to take the necessary time to double check all facets of
each case, rather than kill a person who may be innocent.
"We're human, and we make mistakes," Googe said. "The long wait is a
According to the state Department of Correction, Tennessee has 102 inmates
on death row. The racial breakdown, according to the state: 58 White; 41
African-Americans; 1 Hispanic; 1 Native American; and 1 Asian.
Six of the inmates were convicted for Knox County crimes, including
Christa Gail Pike, 29, 1 of 2 women facing execution in the state, and
Dennis Suttles, 53.
While time is needed to avoid error in capital cases, there's also an
issue of costs to taxpayers for that time.
Amanda Sluss, spokeswoman for the Department of Correction, said whether
the expense of a death row inmate surpasses that of a regular inmate is
difficult to determine because of varying lengths of sentences for the
non-death row inmate population.
As of June 30, 2004, there were 1,721 individuals serving life sentences -
209 of those serving life without parole, compared to the 102 death row
inmates. The average cost per day to house a regular inmate in state
prison is $50.44 compared to $69.47 a day for a death row inmate. Over a
year, that's $2.6 million to house all death row inmates, compared to
$1.88 million for the same number of inmates serving life sentences
But some say one cost that can't be measured in dollars is the toll taken
on families waiting to learn the fate of someone on death row.
"We don't want another family to go through the length of time in appeals
that we did," said Charlotte Stout, mother of 8-year-old Cary Ann Medlin,
who was murdered by Coe in 1979. Coe sat on death row for 20 years before
being executed in April 2000.
However, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, Tennessee may
just be a reflection of what's happening nationwide. The number of death
penalty cases is down by 50 % and executions have decreased by 40 %.
"I think the public is moving away from its support of the death penalty,"
said DPIC executive director Richard Dieter. "New York, for example, was
the last state to adopt the death penalty in 1995, but the state court
overturned it and a legislative committee killed the bill."
(source: Associated Press)
More information about the DeathPenalty