116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds has rejected five applications by prison inmates serving life terms seeking to have their sentences commuted to a period of years, making them potentially eligible for release.
Members of the Iowa Board of Parole had unanimously recommended that the governor consider granting the requests from prison “lifers” Gary Bear, Otis Jenkins, Clyde Johnson, Jerry Osborn and Denise Rhode. However, the governor did not approve the extraordinary remedy.
The most recent was Reynolds’ decision this month to deny commutation for Rhode, who is serving a life term at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville. She was convicted in the 1989 death of her nephew, Matthew, whom she was babysitting with her own three children in Norwalk. At her Sept. 2 commutation hearing, Rhode said it took her years “to accept the truth,” but she has “changed a lot” during her incarceration and believed she could be a productive person if released.
In her Dec. 8 denial of Rhode’s application, the governor said “it remains unclear whether you have truly accepted responsibility for your actions given the discrepancy in how you described what happened on your application and the version of events you eventually told the board during your interview.”
Commutation — a form of clemency in which a governor converts a mandatory life sentence into a fixed-length term with a possibility of parole — is rare in Iowa, with governors reducing the legal penalty for only 40 people in the last 52 years. Most of the commutations cut mandatory life sentences to fixed-length terms with a possibility of parole.
The most recent case was in 2013 when former Gov. Terry Branstad commuted the life prison term of Rasberry Williams, who was convicted of first-degree murder in a 1974 shooting outside a Waterloo pool hall and paroled in 2014.