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Iowa lawmakers back kidnapping legislation

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014 10:39 a.m. CDT

DES MOINES (AP) — Iowa lawmakers on Tuesday easily approved bills increasing the penalties for child kidnapping that were drafted in response to the abduction and killing of teenager Kathlynn Shepard last year.

There are some differences between the two separate bills approved in the Democratic-majority Senate and the Republican-controlled House that will have to be resolved. The legislation will move to the opposing chambers now for review, and lawmakers said they would work to find common ground.

In a unanimous vote, Senate lawmakers approved legislation that would increase criminal penalties in cases involving victims ages 17 and younger or perpetrators with previous kidnapping convictions. Under the legislation, convictions would bring a 25-year prison sentence.

“If I could bring her back to life, I’d do that in a heartbeat, no matter what it cost,” Sen. Robert Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, said of Kathlynn, who was 15 when she was killed. “We can’t do that. ... But this legislation reduces the chances of that happening, and that’s a good thing for all of our children.”

In the state House, lawmakers voted 94-3 in favor of a bill that would increase penalties in cases involving children 15 and younger and prevent those convicted of certain crimes against anyone 15 and younger from reducing sentences through good behavior.

“The plain and simple message of this bill, ladies and gentleman, is this: Stay away from our children,” said Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone.

Senators also approved a bill that would allow people convicted of a violent sexual offense as a juvenile to be sent to a civil containment unit for sexually violent predators upon release from prison. That bill passed unanimously.

Advocates have been calling for tougher laws for sex offenders since late May, when Kathlynn, a high school freshman, and a 12-year-old friend were kidnapped by Michael Klunder as they walked home from school in Dayton, a small town 60 miles north of Des Moines. The 12-year-old escaped, but authorities say Klunder killed Kathlynn and later committed suicide.

Klunder had been released from prison in 2011 after serving 20 years for convictions related to two kidnappings in 1991. His 41-year prison term was cut in half under Iowa law, which shaves sentences by an additional 1.2 days for every day served. Prison officials said he did not meet the criteria to lock up as a sexually violent predator, and so they had to release him without supervision when his term expired. As a registered sex offender, Klunder did have to check in periodically with the local sheriff.

Hogg and Baltimore said they want to work together to find a compromise on the kidnapping bills, but it wasn’t clear where they might end up. Hogg said he did not support changing the current rules on prisoners earning time off for good behavior. But Baltimore said he had reservations about completely removing that language.

“The main point that I want to make sure of is when somebody gets a 25-year sentence, that they serve 25 years or as close to it as possible,” Baltimore said.

Baltimore said he was supportive of the Senate legislation changing the rules for civil containment.

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