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Lawmakers Toughen Penalties for Kidnapping a Child

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DES MOINES, Iowa - State lawmakers took action Tuesday intended to toughen penalties for kidnapping a minor in Iowa in the wake of a high-profile case last year where a man freed from prison abducted two girls and killed one of the victims before hanging himself.

Iowa senators, on separate 50-0 votes, passed a pair of bills drafted in the memory of slain Dayton teenager Kathlynn Shepard that would expand the definition and penalties for kidnapping and would allow authorities to consider the content of sealed juvenile records when sentencing sexually violent predators if they become law.

The House concurred, approving House File 2253 94-3. The bill has some differences from Senate File 2201, including the elimination of earned time credit for people who kidnap a minor and commit a felony of a violent or sexual nature. The "no" votes came from Democratic Reps. Chuck Isenhart of Dubuque, Bruce Hunter of Des Moines and Mary Wolfe of Clinton, who called for several changes, including retaining earned time credit.

Under SF 2201, kidnapping by a stranger of a minor aged 17 years or under would be a Class B crime punishable by a sentence of up to 25 years in prison. Likewise, any subsequent kidnapping conviction would be an automatic Class B felony also subject to the mandatory minimum sentencing provisions.

HF 2253 floor manager Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, said minor differences between the House and Senate versions can be resolved, including addressing issues related to child custody issues. However, he said, Senate Judiciary Chairman Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, is not interested in eliminating the earned time credit.

"We'll have to decide is earned time credit is more important that keeping our kids safe," Baltimore said. He believes there is room for compromise.

Separately, Senate File 2211 would allow authorities to consider the content of sealed juvenile records when sentencing sexually violent predators or imposing civil commitment. Iowa's 1998 commitment law requires a criminal conviction and currently juvenile adjudications for violent sex offenses do not qualify as convictions but that would change under this legislation, said Hogg, who was floor manager of both bills during Tuesday's Senate debate.

Baltimore thought the House would approve the Senate bill.

Hogg and Baltimore said the legislative proposals would help reduce the chances of a tragedy like the May 2013 death of Kathlynn Shepard from happening again in the future.

Michael Klunder, of rural Stratford, abducted Shepard and Dezi Hughes, then 15 and 12, and took them to a hog confinement facility where he worked. Klunder killed Shepard and tried to dispose of her body in a river. Klunder later killed himself. Hughes was able to escape when Klunder separated the girls after the kidnapping.

Klunder was released from the state prison system in 2011 after serving 20 years for two 1991 kidnapping convictions. The first involved a 21-year-old woman he tried to assault. The other involved a pair of 3-year-olds he snatched from a day-care center. The children were found hours later, alive, in a garbage bin.

Klunder also had a sealed juvenile conviction that the judge couldn't consider during the sentencing in the 1991 cases.

HF 2253, Baltimore said, "is a bill that tells everyone in the world out there that if you kidnap a child you will be dealt with severely and harshly, and to be perfectly blunt, quite appropriately."

Hogg thanked Mike and Denise Shepard for sharing the experience of their daughter's death with legislators and working to pass laws designed to strengthen public safety for Iowa children.

"I'm grateful to them for their willingness to come down and share their experience with us so that we can pass legislation that cannot guarantee that children aren't going to be abducted and killed in the future we cannot guarantee that but this legislation reduces the chances of that happening and that's a good thing for all of our children," Hogg said during Tuesday's Senate debate.

"I know it's a very painful experience for them and process them for them, and it's an unimaginable thing for the rest of us who haven't experienced something that like that in our lives," he added. "It's a small thing for this body to do to reduce the possibility it will happen again."

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