Legislation to toughen the penalty for kidnapping a minor has near unanimous support in the Iowa Legislature, but likely will end up in a conference committee because of differences over how the kidnapper should be treated in prison.
Senate File 2201 was approved 50-0 by the Senate and Wednesday cleared the House Judiciary Committee 19-1. However, what Chairman Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, called “one significant policy difference” put him at loggerheads with his counterpart, Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids.
The bill stems from a high-profile case last year where a man freed from prison abducted two girls and killed one of them – 15-year-old Kathynn Shepard of Dayton -- before hanging himself. Lawmakers are moving towards reclassifying kidnapping of a child by a stranger from a Class C felony to a Class B felony punishable by a sentence of up to 25 years in prison. Likewise, any subsequent kidnapping conviction would be an automatic Class B felony also subject to the mandatory minimum sentencing provisions.
There’s no argument about that. However, Baltimore wants to eliminate earned time credit that could result in early release of a kidnapper.
“If there are any instances where earned time credit should not be given, it is for those instances of very violent felony charges and convictions or very sexually-oriented convictions where victims are children,” Baltimore said. “It’s probably better public policy for us to put the interest of the victims and the safety of our children ahead of incentivizing the inmates to behave themselves by giving them the carrot of letting them out early an incentive to get inmates into treatment programs.
However, Hogg argued that earned time credit is a valuable correctional tool. Eliminating earned time credit, even for a few prisoners, “reduces the public safety aspect of the prison.”
If Baltimore wants the kidnapper to stay in prison longer he should propose even longer sentences, Hogg said.
In the Shepard case, Michael Klunder of rural Stratford, abducted her and a friend, Dezi Hughes, then 12, and took them to a hog confinement facility where he worked. Klunder killed Shepard and tried to dispose of her body in a river. Klunder later killed himself. Hughes was able to escape when Klunder separated the girls after the kidnapping.
Klunder was released from the state prison system in 2011 after serving 20 years for two 1991 kidnapping convictions. The first involved a 21-year-old woman he tried to assault. The other involved a pair of 3-year-olds he snatched from a day-care center. The children were found hours later, alive, in a garbage bin.