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Convicted Iowa Drug Kingpin May Get Death

October 14, 2004 GMT

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) _ A drug kingpin was convicted Thursday of murdering five people in a scheme to silence two former dealers turned informants, a verdict that could make him the first person sentenced to death in Iowa in more than 40 years.

The 15-member federal jury deliberated for 15 hours before convicting Dustin Honken, who already is serving a 27-year prison term on a federal drug conviction. The penalty phase of the trial was set to begin Monday.

Honken’s attorneys argued that the government’s case lacked critical physical evidence tying Honken to the 1993 murders, such as blood samples or the murder weapon.

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But federal prosecutors pointed to testimony from former friends, associates and prison inmates, including one of Honken’s childhood friends who said he helped melt down a handgun of the type used in the slayings.

Honken, 35, was convicted of 17 counts, including murder while engaged in drug trafficking, witness tampering and soliciting the murder of a witness.

Relatives of the victims wept and buried their heads in their hands when the verdict was read. Honken’s sister also cried, but the defendant and his mother were stone still.

As the courtroom cleared, Honken turned around, gave his mother an assuring smile and mouthed: ``Don’t worry. I’m all right.″

Iowa has no state death penalty. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft approved seeking death in Honken’s case, making it part of a trend of federal prosecutors seeking the death penalty in states without a statute of their own.

Attorneys for both sides declined to comment on the verdict, saying they remain bound by rules not to talk about the case.

``I always figured that’s the way it would come out,″ said Ed DeGeus, father of victim Terry DeGeus. ``The government did such a beautiful job.″

Terry DeGeus and Greg Nicholson were two of Honken’s former methamphetamine dealers who agreed to cooperate with agents investigating Honken’s multistate operation.

Nicholson, his girlfriend Lori Duncan and her young daughters _ Amber and Kandi _ disappeared July 15, 1993, days before Honken was scheduled to plead guilty to drug charges. Honken, who prosecutors say turned a knack for community college chemistry into a meth business, later reneged on the plea agreement.

DeGeus disappeared months later after agreeing to meet with Angela Johnson, Honken’s then-girlfriend and alleged accomplice. Johnson, 42, is expected to go on trial next year and also faces the death penalty.

The victims’ remains were found buried in farm fields near Mason City in 2000. They were discovered after Johnson gave another jail inmate a hand-scrawled map detailing the location of the grave sites.

Evidence suggested all five victims were beaten, tortured and shot at least once in the back of the head at close range.

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