Children's families want death penalty brought back

Parents lobbied Gov. Branstad on Monday; group included relatives of Elizabeth Collins, Johnny Gosch

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DES MOINES — Heather Collins had always been opposed to the death penalty. Adonnis Hill was, too.

That changed when their children were abducted and killed: Hill’s daughter, Donnisha, more than six years ago, Collins’ daughter, Elizabeth, just this year.

On Monday, Hill and Collins and other parents of missing and murdered children directly lobbied Gov. Terry Branstad to reinstate the death penalty in the state.

“What we’re doing right now is not working,” said Drew Collins, Heather’s husband, during a news conference held in a Statehouse dining room after meeting with the governor. “To me, it’s criminal that we don’t protect our children.”

Hill and the Collinses were part of a group that included Noreen Gosch, whose son Johnny Gosch has been missing since 1982, and Andy Christy, the father of Evelyn Miller, who disappeared in 2005 from her family’s apartment in Floyd and was sexually assaulted and killed.

State Sen. Kent Sorenson, R-Milo, helped organize the meeting. He pledged to introduce legislation this year that reinstates the death penalty in Iowa.

He said he agrees with the governor that people who commit two Class A felonies should be eligible for the death penalty. An example is kidnapping and murder.

Assistant Director of the Department of Corrections Fred Scaletta said there are 67 people in the Iowa prison system convicted of two or more Class A felonies. There are 636 inmates serving life without parole and, as of Monday, 8,231 people incarcerated the system.

“I don’t think we have any need for (the death penalty),” Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said. “The last time it was up here being debated, there was strong, bipartisan opposition to it.”

Hogg and other Senate Democrats were at the Statehouse Monday for a caucus meeting.

“What we ought to be doing is deploying all the resources of state government to catch the perpetrator or perpetrators of that offense,” he said. “We’ve got to find them and bring them to justice. To me, that’s my bigger concern than having a debate about the death penalty.”

The death penalty was abolished in 1965. The Iowa Senate last debated the death penalty in 1995 following a 1994 contest for governor between Branstad and Democrat Bonnie Miles in which Branstad made reinstatement a campaign piece.

The proposal, which would have allowed the death penalty by lethal injection in certain cases, was defeated 39-11 with 13 Republicans and 26 Democrats opposed, according to the advocacy group Iowans Against the Death Penalty.

Marty Ryan, spokesman said for the group, said it is adamantly opposed to reinstatement under any circumstances.

“How do you compromise on death? You can’t,” he said.

Sorenson said he recognizes that it’s an “uphill battle” to get the death penalty back on the books.

He said that will be only one aim of the legislation that also will include better tracking of people once they get out of prison and potential improvements to statewide notification systems such as Amber Alert. He said specifics are forthcoming.

“The fact that they’re still breathing and being taken care of, that bothers me,” Hill said. “Going through this, just six years ago, it hurts. It hurts to see other families go through it.”


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