Shepard’s family to push for 1-strike law

IOWA CITY – The parents of the 15-year-old Iowa girl who was kidnapped and killed will work with a California nonprofit to push for stricter sentencing and monitoring for sex offenders who target children, the group told The Associated Press on Friday.

Kathlynn Shepard’s parents have called a news conference in Dayton for today with the group supporting Chelsea’s Law, which was passed in California in 2010. The law was named after Chelsea King, a 17-year-old girl who was who was raped and killed by a paroled sex offender after she went for a run in a San Diego park.

The law allows judges to sentence some sexual offenders who commit violent crimes against children to life in prison without parole, a so-called one-strike provision. It also requires lifetime parole with GPS tracking for people convicted of forcible sex crimes against minors and changes the way offenders are evaluated.

Supporters of Kathlynn have been calling for tougher laws for sex offenders since late May, when the high school freshman and a 12-year-old friend were kidnapped by Michael Klunder while walking home from school in Dayton, a small town 60 miles north of Des Moines. Police say Klunder took the girls to a hog confinement building where he worked, and the 12-year-old girl managed to escape. They say Klunder later killed Kathlynn and committed suicide. The girl’s body was found in a river June 7 after an extensive search.

Klunder had been released from prison in 2011 after serving 20 years for convictions related to two kidnappings in 1991. One involved a 21-year-old woman he forced into his vehicle and tried to assault. The other involved two 3-year-old girls he kidnapped from an apartment building and left in a trash bin 50 miles away, where they were found alive.

Klunder’s 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.

Chelsea’s father, Brent King, said in an interview Friday that he has spoken with Kathlynn’s family and agreed to help them seek an “extremely well-thought-out law” that will better protect Iowa children.

“My wife and I had a lot of things that we wanted, but one requirement: That was a one-strike rule. Speaking with the Shepards, they have the exact same feeling,” he said. “They cannot believe that a Klunder could be released back to society.”

He spoke Friday as he was driving from his home in suburban Chicago to Iowa for Saturday’s news conference.

King said his nonprofit, Chelsea’s Light, and its political advocacy arm, Chelsea’s Shield, have been supporting similar proposals in other states. Most recently, a Texas proposal passed the state’s House but died in the Senate.

King said his group was starting to research Iowa’s laws and decide what specific changes should be proposed when lawmakers return next January. In addition to the one-strike law, he said changes to the use of GPS technology to monitor offenders and overall sentencing laws would be examined. In the coming months, the group will seek to build a wide coalition of supporters, he said.

Gov. Terry Branstad and key lawmakers have said they are open to considering changes in the wake of Kathlynn’s death. Internal Department of Corrections emails obtained by AP show that some state officials, however, are advising a limited response.

Corrections official Lettie Prell wrote to colleagues that she believed the “cleanest proposal” would be to extend an existing law that puts some sex offenders on lifetime parole to include some kidnapping cases.

“That way we don’t have to invent any new twist to the Iowa Code, which would engender more ICON programming, (attorney general) opinions and case law,” Prell wrote. ICON is a data computer system used by the department.