There has been a flurry of activity in the Iowa Legislature as a response to the Jetseta Gage tragedy. In brief, she was the young girl who was kidnapped, raped, and murdered by a convicted sex offender. Our legislators are trying to look tough by proposing new laws that will prevent this sort of thing from happening.
Now, it gets a little complicated. Roger Bentley, the man who committed the crime, was able to take her in part because her mother, Trena Gage, had invited him to the family home to work on her car. Trena met Roger through his brother, James. James was Trena’s ex-boyfriend. (And, if you dig far enough into the sordid history, a man that Trena once sued for child support as the father of her son. But DNA testing said he wasn’t.) James also was jailed last November for repeatedly raping Jetseta over a two-year period. Trena claimed she had no knowledge of this, but during the time she was dating James he was arrested for another incident involving inappropriate contact with a minor. I offer none of this as exculpation for Roger Bentley, just as proof of the fact that answers to these problems sometimes can’t be found in legislative action. By that I mean that the easiest way to have prevented Jetseta Gage from being kidnapped, raped, and murdered would have been for her mother to JUST NOT HANG OUT WITH CONVICTED SEX OFFENDERS IN THE FIRST PLACE! Sorry for the all-caps, but Trena’s actions in this case, indeed throughout the lives of her children, are inexcusable. Absolutely inexcusable.
But I digress.
As I mentioned, a lot of new legislation has been proposed. A group of Republicans are trying to start a debate on the death penalty, and are being blocked in the Iowa Senate by the Senate Democratic leader who refuses to let a bill out of committee if it contains the death penalty.
Time to digress again. The Iowa Senate is currently tied, 25 Democrats and 25 Republican. The Iowa House is slightly Republican. Prior to this, Republicans had control of both chambers for about 8 years. During that time, they never once brought a bill containing the death penalty to the floor for debate. There weren’t the votes for it to pass, the governor wouldn’t sign it, and a majority of Iowans opposed it. So they didn’t bother.
But now, now they do want it brought to the floor. One of the leaders in the movement is a Republican who, last fall when he was up for election, told voters he did not believe in the death penalty. But now he wants it, because of loopholes in the sex offender law.
Not sure why he doesn’t just want to fix those loopholes, but there you are.
Anyway, to make a long story longer, I am opposed to the death penalty. I won’t go into those reasons now – it’s not the purpose of this. I will say that the only reason that appears to be valid for having it is as a deterrent. And that’s one of the grounds supporters are giving for wanting it. To deter future crimes.
Doesn’t matter that all the statistical evidence shows that the death penalty doesn’t deter violent crime and that, indeed, states with the death penalty are the states with the highest rates of violent crime and, even further, that states that institute the death penalty see their violent crime rates go up. That should matter, but it doesn’t. And it doesn’t matter that a death penalty would not have prevented Roger Bentley from doing what he did. He wasn’t thinking about consequences, anymore than a cat thinks about consequences when it jumps a bird. He was thinking gratification of his immediate needs. He was as an animal, acting in accordance with the twisted way he was hard-wired. No, the death penalty would not have deterred him. That should matter, but it doesn’t.
(Although I will add one more complication to this, something I have wondered about. Did Roger Bentley do what he did in part to help his brother? His brother’s lawyer is saying that tapes made of Jetseta’s depositions should not be allowed in court during James’ trial because he will be unable to face his accuser. I’m not saying that went through Roger’s mind, but more of an instinctual “Hurt girl – help James” thing. We will never know unless Roger says something.)
The supporters are arguing that the death penalty would be a deterrent, and, as such, they want the death penalty for anyone that murders a child. They also want it for anyone who kidnaps a child with intent to do the child harm. And that’s what this long, rambling post is about. Because that sets off my“What? Are you high?” alarm. (Note: Sometimes the most appropriate response to a really insane idea is “What? Are you high?”)
Because it’s like this. If a person is rational enough that they are thinking about the consequences if they get caught, then why make the penalty for kidnapping the same as the penalty for murder? It’s much easier to get away with the kidnapping if you murder the victim. And if the penalty for the kidnapping is the same as the penalty for the murder, then why the hell would you let the victim live? (With the caveat that you are giving some thought to the consequences of being caught and, as such, are susceptible to being deterred, and if you aren’t giving thought to the consequences of being caught then it doesn’t really matter what the punishment is because it could be being drawn and quartered and it wouldn’t deter you) The answer? You wouldn’t. If you’re going to get punished the same for kidnapping you’ve just committed as you are for murdering the victim, you’d go ahead and murder the victim and take your chances that you wouldn’t get caught. In short, passing this law would incent criminals to commit murder.
And I don’t really think that’s a valid goal of our legislative body.