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Death Penalty Urged for Iowa Drug Dealer

October 27, 2004 GMT

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) _ A jury Wednesday recommended the death penalty for a drug dealer convicted of the execution-style slayings of five people, including two children.

Dustin Honken, already serving a 27-year term on a federal drug conviction, is the first person sentenced to death in Iowa in more than 40 years.

The recommendation came in the deaths of the children; the panel recommended life in prison for the three adults slain. A sentencing hearing has not been set.

The 35-year-old former kingpin in a methamphetamine ring was convicted Oct. 14 on 17 counts, including murder while engaged in drug trafficking, witness tampering and soliciting the murder of a witness.

In the trial’s penalty phase, prosecutors argued the death penalty was appropriate because Honken hunted his victims, plotted the murders, tortured the adults and killed the children in cold blood.

``If not now, then when?″ assistant U.S. Attorney C.J. Williams asked the jury last week.

Iowa is one of 12 states without the death penalty, which was repealed by Iowa lawmakers in 1965, two years after the last execution at a state prison. 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.

Honken’s sister, Alyssa Nelson, bowed her head and wiped away tears after the recommendation. Nelson, her husband and mother, Marvea Smidt, declined to speak as they left the courthouse.

Victims’ relatives had been told to withhold comment until after the upcoming trial of Honken’s girlfriend and alleged accomplice, Angela Johnson. She also faces murder charges and a possible death penalty.

However, Brenda Stone, the sister of victim Terry DeGeus, flashed a thumbs-up sign as she left the courthouse with relatives. ``That’s the only comment I’ve got,″ she said.

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, 6, and Kandi, 10 _ disappeared July 15, 1993, days before Honken was scheduled to plead guilty to drug charges; Honken then reneged on the plea deal. DeGeus disappeared months later after agreeing to meet with Johnson.

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.