Government

Iowa Catholic bishops ask Trump to stop execution of killer of five

President Donald Trump speaks during a news briefing at the White House, Thursday, July 2, 2020, in Washington. (AP Phot
President Donald Trump speaks during a news briefing at the White House, Thursday, July 2, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Executing an Iowan found guilty of the deaths of five people, including two children, would contribute to “a growing disrespect for the sacredness of all human life,” Iowa Catholic bishops say in a letter asking President Donald Trump to commute the killer’s sentence.

“We believe that state-sanctioned killing would not deter or end violence, but instead perpetuate a cycle of violence,” the four Roman Catholic bishops wrote to the president. “We oppose the death penalty to follow the example of Jesus, who both taught and practiced the forgiveness of injustice.”

However, Trump often has spoken about capital punishment and his belief that executions serve as an effective deterrent and an appropriate punishment for some crimes, including mass shootings and the killings of police officers.

Acknowledging his “horrific acts,” the bishops are asking Trump to commute the sentence for Dustin Honken from death to life without the possibility of parole.

Honken, whose attorney described him as a “deeply remorseful and devout Catholic and loving father of two children,” is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection July 17.

Location of the execution has not been released.

“It is a duty of the state to punish offenders and defend the common good and this would still be accomplished by commuting his sentence,” according to Archbishop Michael Jackels of the Dubuque archdiocese, and Bishops Thomas Zinkula of Davenport, R. Walter Nickless of Sioux City and William Joensen of Des Moines.

About one in five Iowa adults is a Catholic, according to the Pew Research Center.

Authorities say that in 1993, Honken, then a methamphetamine drug kingpin originally from Britt, and his girlfriend, Angela Johnson, went looking for Gregory Nicholson, a dealer-turned-informer who had testified against Honken to a grand jury.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

They found him at a home with his girlfriend, Lori Duncan, and her two daughters — Kandi, 10, and Amber, 6.

They took the four to a rural field west of Mason City. There, the victims were bound, gagged and shot in the head.

Terry DeGeus, another dealer, disappeared months later after telling relatives he was meeting with Johnson.

The bodies of four victims lay undetected until October 2000, when Johnson unwittingly talked in detail to a jailhouse informer in the Benton County Jail.

Prosecutors said Honken killed in an attempt to protect his drug business. A jury convened in Sioux City recommended the death penalty for Honken — the first time in 40 years that an Iowan was sentenced to death.

The U.S. Department of Justice recently announced it would resume executions after a 13-year informal moratorium.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.