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Klunder Case: What Kept Him From Being Locked Up Longer
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DES MOINES, Iowa —Their daughter was kidnapped and killed two months ago. Now their fury turns into a fight to keep repeat predators off the streets.
The family of Kathlynn Shepard is already meeting with lawmakers to start gathering support.
Before Michael Klunder kidnapped Kathlynn Shepard and Desi Hughes in Dayton on May 20, he was convicted in three kidnappings.
KCCI is learning more about an unusual twist in the cases that kept him from being locked up longer.
On a stretch of Highway 18, right on the Floyd County/Cerro Gordo County line, Michael Klunder found one of his first kidnapping victims. It was December 15 1991. A 21-year-old woman named Lori was driving alone.
“Mr. Klunder flagged her over and said she had some sort of equipment violation. I believe she got out of the car to check it out, he grabbed her, concealed her in his car and fairly quickly, before he could do whatever he planned to do, she was able to get away. In that process, he assaulted her and she was able to flag down somebody. It is my understanding he took off and ended up somewhere down in Texas,” said Cerro Gordo Assistant County Attorney Steve Tynan.
Law enforcement eventually caught up to him. They charged him with third-degree kidnapping and assault.
“I was in the office at the time the Klunder case was prosecuted,” said Tynan.
Tynan did not prosecute Klunder's specific case, but remembers plenty of conversations about it. He remembers well the disappointment of not being able to charge him with first-degree kidnapping so they could put him away for life.
“We didn't even have probable cause to argue they were serious injuries,” said Tynan
The 21-year-old victim on Highway 18 did not have horrible physical injuries.
“Her injuries I think came down to a few scratches or something like that,” said Tynan.
But that also meant Klunder only faced third-degree kidnapping and 10 years in prison instead of first-degree kidnapping and the rest of his life behind bars.
That wasn't the only disappointment for prosecutors. Documents show the jury in this case had the option of finding Klunder guilty of third-degree kidnapping with the intent to commit sexual abuse or the lesser charge of kidnapping with assault causing bodily injury.
The jury chose the lesser charge, saying there was no sexual link to the crime.
“He grabbed her, pulled her in the car, must've had something in mind and then he assaulted her,” said Tynan. “I don't want to say anything to criticize the jury. The jury did their job. It was a little frustrating though.’
Also a little frustrating, a few months after the court case, Klunder reached a plea deal on the kidnapping of two 3-year-old girls. For all three kidnappings, he'd be sentenced to 41 years in prison but serve just 18 due to good behavior.
The outcomes of the two cases ended up coming into play when Klunder was released from prison in 2011. There is something called the state's multidisciplinary team that could have decided to send Klunder to a high-security treatment facility in Cherokee that's strictly for sex offenders at highest risk of reoffending. But because there was no sexual crime, Klunder was released from prison with no restrictions, and two years later, lured Kathlynn Shepard and Dezi Hughes into his truck.
Shepard's body was found 18 days later in the Des Moines River.
"If we can help protect just one child in Iowa or the nation, then this tragedy, as bad as it was, can mean something," said Michael Shepard.
Kathlynn's family is now fighting for tougher laws on kidnappers and anyone with crimes against children. They feel like the system failed her, and even seasoned prosecutors can't help but think that something needs to improve.
“Looking back, yeah,” said Tynan. “I thought that we did what we could.”
Specifically, Tynan would like to see a law enacted that if a child is kidnapped that is purely enough to raise it to first-degree kidnapping and life in prison. Right now, that child would have to be seriously injured in the process to raise it to first-degree kidnapping.
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