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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
HIAWATHA - It's premature to talk about whether Iowa should reinstate the death penalty for people convicted of killing law enforcement officers, Gov. Terry Branstad said Wednesday.
The governor also cautioned that the death penalty is not a 'panacea” for attacks on law enforcement.
Branstad, who has supported the limited use of the death penalty, which Iowa abolished in 1965, didn't rule out the introduction of a death penalty bill when the Legislature convenes in January.
However, in the wake of the deaths of Des Moines Police Sgt. Anthony Beminio and Urbandale Officer Justin Martin, Branstad said now is the time to 'show our solidarity and strong support for those people who risk their lives every day to protect the safety of our citizens.”
The two officers were fatally shot Wednesday while sitting in their patrol cars in what police called unprovoked ambushes.
'This is a terrible tragedy,” Branstad said after a campaign stop in Hiawatha with GOP candidates and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Several attempts to reinstate the death penalty have been made over the years. Typically, legislation is offered after a crime that attracts widespread public attention. The 2012 abductions and deaths of cousins Elizabeth Collins and Lyric Cook-Morrissey, then 8 and 10, of Black Hawk County prompted a death penalty debate at the Statehouse.
The most recent legislation, offered in 2015, would have permitted executions in cases where a minor was kidnapped, raped and murdered. Sponsor Sen. Randy Feenstra, R-Hull, said a suspect has nothing to lose by committing murder to cover up kidnap and rape. Under Iowa law, punishment for first-degree murder, as well as the most serious cases of rape and murder can be life imprisonment.
Majority Democrats, however, declined to debate the bill, Senate File 239. A new proposal likely would meet the same fate, according to Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, vice chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
'Attempts to change that law have met with bipartisan opposition over at least the last 20 years, and I expect that bipartisan opposition to continue into the future,” he said Wednesday.
'Today we should all be focused on the law enforcement officers involved and their families,” Hogg said. 'Out of this tragedy, I hope we can unite as a state to prevent further violence and move away from hatred.”
Branstad sounded a similar tone, saying at this time the focus should be on the officers and their families. There will be time in the future to weigh what legislative response is called for.
'I think we have to look at this from the perspective of what is the most effective thing we can do to protect the safety of our citizens?” he said.
It's also important to remember that the 'death penalty is not something that happens immediately, so this is not a panacea” to stop attacks on law enforcement, Branstad said.