Panel OKs tough kidnap penalty

A proposal to keep convicted kidnappers in prison longer in an effort to prevent future crimes like the 2013 murder of Dayton teenager Kathlynn Shepard was advanced by a state Senate panel Thursday.

The measure would increase the penalty for kidnapping someone who is 16 or younger to 25 years in prison. It now goes to the full Senate for action.

Shepard, 15, and a then-12-year-old girl were abducted by Michael Klunder, 42, of Stratford, on May 20, 2013. According to investigators, Klunder, who had been convicted of kidnapping, killed Shepard and later committed suicide. The younger girl escaped from him.

Shepard’s mother, Denise Shepard, went to the state Capitol in Des Moines Thursday and urged members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to pass the bill. An attempt to contact her Thursday afternoon was unsuccessful.

”Think of how many children we can save by keeping one person in jail longer,” Denise Shepard told the committee members, according to The Associated Press.

State Sen. Daryl Beall, D-Fort Dodge, said he is in favor of the bill.

”I will support the stronger sanctions,” he said.

State Sen. Jerry Behn, R-Boone, said he expects quick action on the bill by the Senate.

”That would have allowed him to have stayed in jail longer if he had been convicted and this was in place,” Behn said of the bill.

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.”

Since the legislative session began, the Shepard family and some lawmakers have focused on tougher prison sentences as a way to prevent convicted kidnappers like Klunder from committing more violent crimes.

On Jan. 23, a House subcommittee approved a bill which would increase the punishment for kidnapping to 25 years in prison if the victim is 15 or younger.

Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation agents have said that Kathlynn 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.

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.