DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad said he won’t push for reinstatement of the death penalty in Iowa, even though he thinks it should be used in certain cases.
Meanwhile, Senate President Mike Gronstal said he’s morally opposed to reinstatement of the death penalty, making any legislative attempt to do so seem futile. Gronstal’s statement comes as some lawmakers have begun calling for the death penalty’s return following last week’s discovery of the remains of two pre-teen girls who had been missing since summer.
“My position has been consistently, for the last 20 or 30 years, that if an individual is guilty of a crime such as first-degree rape or kidnapping and then murders the victim, so two Class A felonies … that is the limited instance when I think the death penalty could be appropriate,” he said during a Statehouse news conference Monday.
But, the governor continued, the “political realities” in the General Assembly would make it difficult to justify an attempt at reinstatement.
“I like to focus on things that have a realistic chance of being approved,” he said, adding that Gronstal, a Council Bluffs Democrat, is majority leader in the Iowa Senate where Democrats hold a 26-23 majority.
Gronstal confirmed his opposition to the death penalty in an email statement Monday afternoon.
“My moral values won’t let me support returning the death penalty to Iowa,” he said.
The Iowa Senate last debated the death penalty in 1995 following a 1994 contest for governor between Branstad and Democrat Bonnie Miles in which Branstad made reinstatement a campaign piece.
Then, as now, Democrats controlled the Senate. The proposal, which would have allowed the death penalty by lethal injection in certain cases, was defeated 39-11 with 13 Republicans and 26 Democrats opposed, according to the advocacy group Iowans Against the Death Penalty.
At the time, Sen. Wally Horn of Cedar Rapids served as majority leader and current U.S. Rep. Leonard Boswell, who recently lost his Congressional re-election bid, served as president.
Iowans Against the Death Penalty says legislative attempts at reinstatement have been tried or proposed at least six times since the death penalty was abolished in Iowa in 1965.
Some lawmakers have begun calling for its reinstatement after hunters discovered the bodies of Elizabeth Collins and her cousin, Lyric Cook-Morrissey, in a wooded area in rural Bremer County. Elizabeth was 8 and Lyric was 10 when they went for a bike ride on July 13 in the northeastern Iowa community and didn’t return.
Monday afternoon, the governor released a statement about the deaths.
“It was with great sadness that I learned of the deaths of Lyric and Elizabeth. I want to commend the thousands of family members, friends and volunteers who never lost hope that they might be found alive,” Branstad said in the statement. “With this closure now comes great grief. The thoughts and prayers of my administration go out to those affected by this terrible tragedy. I want to assure everyone that our Department