Infamous kidnapping underscores push for harsher penalty

Iowa County Attorneys Association seeking longer prison term

(iStock)
(iStock)

By Rod Boshart, Gazette Des Moines Bureau

DES MOINES — The Iowa County Attorneys Association again is seeking to make the crime of kidnapping by a stranger of a minor 17 or younger a forcible Class B felony punishable by a sentence of up to 25 years in prison.

Separate bills are moving in the House and Senate, seeking to toughen the penalty in the wake of a high-profile 2013 case in which a man freed from prison later abducted two girls and killed one before hanging himself.

Authorities said Michael Klunder, of rural Stratford, lured into his truck and abducted Kathlynn Shepard and Dezi Hughes, then 15 and 12, who lived across the street from each other in Dayton. He then took them to a hog confinement facility where he worked.

Dezi was able to escape when Klunder separated the girls after the kidnapping.

Klunder killed Kathlynn and tried to dispose of her body in a river.

He later killed himself.

Klunder had been released from the state prison system in 2011 after serving 20 years for two 1991 kidnapping convictions. He also had a sealed juvenile conviction that the judge couldn’t consider during the sentencing in the 1991 cases.

Kelly Meyers and Thomas Ferguson of the Iowa County Attorneys Association said Klunder would not have been freed — thus not able to kidnap the girls — had he been serving consecutive terms on the changes proposed in Senate Study Bill 3026.

“These are parents’ and individuals’ worst nightmares that someone would kidnap a young person, and we want to make sure that the punishment is appropriate for those who commit those kinds of acts,” Ferguson said.

Daniel Zeno, an American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa lobbyist, said while his group supports the effort to keep young people safe, he questioned whether the answer is “mass incarceration” and enhancing criminal penalties.

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“This is a tragic story. We don’t want that to happen to anybody, but is there any data to show that enhancing the penalty will reduce the number of these kind? I don’t know of any data. There may be some out there. But I think there are other ways that we could do this,” Zeno told a Senate subcommittee that approved the measure 3-0 last week.

“I don’t ever believe that a tougher penalty necessarily is going to deter anybody,” said Sen. Tom Shipley, R-Nodaway. “I think most of those guys think they’re smarter than everybody else and they’re going to get away with it anyway.”

l Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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