Dayton girl’s death inspires law

The parents of a slain Dayton teenager are pushing for a proposal that would keep convicted kidnappers behind bars longer, and the effort is winning the support of lawmakers serving Webster County.

Mike and Denise Shepard, the parents of Kathlynn Shepard, were at the state Capitol Thursday and spoke before a House subcommittee.

Kathlynn Shepard, 15, and a then 12-year-old girl were abducted on May 20, 2013, in Dayton by a man who had served prison time for kidnapping. The younger girl escaped from Michael Klunder, 42, of Stratford, that day. Kathlynn Shepard’s body was found June 7, 2013, amid logs and other debris in the Des Moines River that had piled up against a pier of the Kate Shelley High Bridge northwest of Boone.

Klunder committed suicide.

The measure approved by the subcommittee Thursday would increase the punishment for kidnapping to 25 years in prison if the victim is 15 or younger. The bill now goes to the full House Judiciary Committee.

“I believe this is something that has total bipartisan support,” said state Rep. Tom Shaw, R-Laurens. “Every member that I’ve talked to wants to get something done on this.”

Shaw said he saw the Shepards at the Capitol Thursday, but did not get to speak to them.

“No 15-year-old child should ever have to endure what Kathlynn Shepard experienced,” said state Sen. Daryl Beall, D-Fort Dodge. “No parent should ever have to live what Mike and Denise Shepard lived last June. Clearly, there is a gap in Iowa’s law that needs to be fixed. I support legislation that will address and fix the problem that led to this horrible tragedy.”

According to Beall, there are two bills to address the issue pending in the Senate. One would increase the penalty for kidnapping someone who is 16 or younger to 25 years in prison.

He said another bill would require sex crimes committed by a juvenile to be considered in determining if that individual should be locked up for life as a sexually violent predator. Beall said Klunder committed one sexual offense as a juvenile and another as an adult.

“Obviously, passage of these bills will not bring back the precious life of Kathlynn Shepard,” Beall said. “But these laws will largely protect future Kathlynn Shepards from sexually violent predators like Michael Klunder.”

State Sen. Jerry Behn, R-Boone, said he’s “very open to any changes we need to make.”

“I am empathetic and I certainly want to help,” he said.

Behn said there have already been some changes in sentencing laws that may help prevent future such incidents.

He added that the way Klunder’s kidnapping case was prosecuted may have contributed to him leaving prison early.

“The problem is, he was not charged with as many things as they had,” Behn said.

According to the senator, Klunder kidnapped three people, but was only charged with two counts of kidnapping.

Klunder was convicted of third-degree kidnapping in 1992 and was sentenced to 41 years in prison. He was released in 2011.

“The law states that when somebody walks into the prison system, for every day here they get 1.2 days off their sentence,” Fred Scaletta, a spokesman for the Iowa Department of Corrections, told The Messenger last year. “That can reduce the sentence by more than half.”

Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation agents have said that Shepard and the other girl had just gotten off a school bus in Dayton on May 20, 2013, and were walking home when Klunder approached them in his pickup truck. He asked them if they wanted to make some money mowing lawns, and offered to let them use his cell phone to call their parents after taking them to the site. But instead of taking them to a mowing job, he took them to a hog confinement near Pilot Mound. There, investigators said, he threatened them with a weapon used to euthanize livestock and bound them with plastic zip ties. After he took Shepard to another area in the building, the younger girl took the weapon and ran.

Klunder committed suicide by hanging himself in a hog confinement building that night, investigators said.