- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 6, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad has rejected the requests of five inmates seeking reduced sentences, including three imprisoned for decades who are serving life terms without parole.

Of the inmates denied commutation Tuesday, two are serving life sentences for first-degree murder - one of them committed more than 54 years ago. The other is serving life for first-degree kidnapping.

Commutation denotes the modification or reduction of a punishment. Under Iowa law, first-degree murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

According to a 1982 decision in the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Earl Thompson pleaded guilty to and was convicted of first-degree murder in January 1961 in Dallas County in the death of a 16-year-old boy. Thompson, now 81, filed a series of petitions over an 11-year period beginning in 1965, claiming unlawful imprisonment. All were denied, prompting him to submit an appeal in 1981, which also was rejected. Branstad’s commutation denial leaves Thompson ineligible for parole.

A 1977 Iowa Supreme Court decision details the case of Kenneth Sheffey, now 63, who killed one man and seriously wounded another in August 1973 when they encountered him breaking into a Davenport supermarket. The court refused to reverse Sheffey’s first-degree murder conviction, along with other guilty verdicts. In Tuesday’s commutation decision, Branstad denied Sheffey the opportunity to seek parole.

Another inmate, Randy Schubert, 59, was convicted in the abduction of an 18-year-old Forest City woman in 1982. His life sentence stands following Branstad’s rejection of his commutation application.

Two others are serving 25-year terms for first-degree robbery convictions, and they become eligible for parole when a minimum of 70 percent of their sentence has been served. Troy Madthus, 48, was found guilty in 2005 in robberies at two fast-food restaurants in Waterloo, and Edgar Cardona, 40, was convicted and later denied an appeal for post-conviction relief, in which he argued his attorney failed to ensure he received accurate translations from an interpreter. Both their crimes were committed in November 2003, and the rejection of their commutation applications means they each must serve roughly five more years before parole becomes an option.

Branstad has commuted only three life sentences during his 20 years in office. In July 2012, he also commuted the life sentences of 38 juveniles convicted of murder to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court decision that concluded mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole are unconstitutional for juvenile offenders.

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