Republican State Senators Scott Webster and Dave Rowley advanced a bill that would legalize the death penalty for capital murder of a peace officer committed by an adult. Defendants would be able to raise the issue of intellectual disability or mental illness when filing pretrial motions.
Any death sentence by jury would have to be unanimous. There are a number of other elements that would be used to determine if the death penalty is an option in the case.
Wendy Abrahamson of the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa spoke against the bill. Her opposition is based on her Christian faith, she said.
“We follow a God who was executed by the state,” she said. “And so fundamentally we don’t believe that the state has any role in doing that. It also is not appropriate for the state to be acting in vengeance.”
Connie Ryan of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa Action Fund read from a letter signed by more than 170 faith leaders opposed to the death penalty. She noted concerns with racial disparities involved in the use of the death penalty as well as the amount of public money used in such instances.
Tom Chapman of the Iowa Catholic Conference said the group is opposed to such a proposal.
“From our religious perspective, every person is made in the image and likeness of God, even those who have committed great harm retain their human dignity and the capacity to reform, to love and be loved,” Chapman said. “No person is beyond the redemptive mercy of God.”
Democrat State Sen. Tony Bisignano said he’s been assigned to death penalty bills ever since he has been serving at the Capitol.
“It’s always a different spin and there’s a different inclusiveness of who we find to be the most heinous of all,” Bisignano said.
Bisignano asked if perpetrators of school shootings would be sentenced to death under this bill. Webster acknowledged they would not.
“That’s about as tone deaf as you can get,” Bisignano said. “I can tell you, and I don’t see a police officer here, but I would like to ask them — if they had the choice of implementation of a death penalty but it only could cover one group, would they cover themselves or would they cover school children?
“And the logic is no one should ever kill a law enforcement officer or prison guard — they shouldn’t kill anybody. The fact that law enforcement, like the military, signs up for dangerous duty, they are dressed for it, they’re equipped for it. But yet it’s a danger. Children sign up to go to school. The teachers sign up to teach. The principal signs up to administer. In the Perry shooting, the principal was killed and a child was killed. (The death penalty) wouldn’t apply under this bill.”
Even if it did, Bisignano said he wouldn’t support the death penalty because “you never get to what you want because revenge does not reward you.”
“And that’s all the death penalty is — revenge,” Bisignano said. “Frankly life in prison without parole has to be one of the most painful, mentally torturing things I would think that you could go through.”
Bisignano closed by saying he doesn’t believe this bill is anything Gov. Kim Reynolds wants. With the lack of a companion bill in the House, Bisignano said the bill is just someone playing politics in an election year.
“This seems to be a cop killer bill,” he said. “It seems to be a thing you want to put in your brochure, but I hope you put along with that that you excluded children killed in school shootings.”
Rowley said families like that of slain Algona Police Officer Kevin Cram are the reason bills like this are brought forward. Cram was killed when serving a warrant last fall.
“Their pain and suffering goes on and on,” he said. “There’s very little closure, if any, throughout their lives. The voice that’s left behind is a husband, a father of three, a son, a grandson — that is who wants to be heard when this sensitive issue comes up. It is a question of justice. How is that served? I’ll leave that open.”
Webster said he believes it is important lawmakers have the backs of those who serve as peace officers.
“We should make sure that we realize and we know that they’re out there defending us and we defend them,” Webster said.
The bill needs to be amended, but was advanced to full committee.