- Associated Press - Thursday, January 23, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Iowa lawmakers on Thursday gave preliminary approval to legislation seeking tougher kidnapping penalties following the kidnapping and killing of a teenage girl last year.

The Des Moines Register reported (dmreg.co/1hnEAV3) that a House subcommittee backed a bill that would increase the punishment for kidnapping if the victim is 15 or younger.

The legislation raises the sentence for such crimes to 25 years and blocks those convicted of certain crimes from the ability to reduce a sentence.

Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, chairman of the Iowa House Judiciary Committee, said he hopes to prevent future kidnapping tragedies.

“This was a horrible set of circumstances that all came together to result in a massive tragedy. All that we can do now is try to do what we can to keep those circumstances from coming together again,” Baltimore said.

The bill now moves to the full House committee. Lawmakers in the Senate are working on similar legislation and Sen. Robert Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, chairman of the Iowa Senate Judiciary Committee, said he was hopeful both sides could compromise on a bill to send to the governor.

The legislation responds to the death of 15-year-old Kathlynn Shepard, who is believed to have been killed by registered sex offender Michael Klunder. Klunder killed himself after the incident.

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, 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.

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Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com