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Dustin Honken, a Britt drug dealer and mass murderer who shot and killed five people in 1993, including two children, will be executed in January.
Attorney General William Barr directed the federal government Thursday to resume capital punishment after nearly two decades and has directed the Bureau of Prisons to schedule the execution of five inmates after adopting an updated execution protocol.
From 2004: Convicted Iowa drug kingpin may get death
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.
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.
Barr has directed the head of the Bureau of Prisons to execute "five death-row inmates convicted of murdering, and in some cases torturing and raping, the most vulnerable in our society — children and the elderly," according to a statement from the Department of Justice.
At Barr's direction, the Bureau of Prisons has adopted the Federal Execution Protocol Addendum which "replaces the three-drug procedure previously used in federal executions with a single drug—pentobarbital," the Justice Department announced.
Honken was involved in one of North Iowa’s most well-publicized murder cases and was found guilty of five counts of murder in 2004.
His execution is scheduled to occur on Jan. 15, 2020.
The bodies were found buried in a wooded area in 2003 near where the current Cerro Gordo Co. Law Enforcement Center sits.
Honken killed Lori Ann Duncan, her daughters Kandace and Amber Duncan, Gregory Nicholson and Terry DeGeus during a federal meth investigation. The two children were kidnapped from Mason City.
DeGeus and Nicholson were two of Honken’s former methamphetamine dealers who agreed to cooperate with agents investigating Honken’s multistate operation.
Honken was convicted of 17 counts, including murder while engaged in drug trafficking, witness tampering and soliciting the murder of a witness.
Nicholson, his girlfriend Lori Duncan and her young daughters disappeared July 15, 1993, days before Honken was scheduled to plead guilty to drug charges.
David Milbrath, the father and grandfather of two of the victims, spoke following the funerals in 2004 and said the following:
“I don't feel they should live any longer than necessary. Once they’re found guilty, they should be eliminated as soon as possible.”
Jeff Dahle of Mason City is a father himself, and remembers when the bodies were found. The violence and nature of the crimes aren't easily forgotten, and believes that the death penalty is fitting for the crimes.
"It's a horriffic thing for that man to take that family and murder them. That's horrible, and I think that he deserves the execution coming to him."
The victims' bodies weren't recovered for years. Honken, a Britt resident, expanded his meth-making and distribution enterprise in time after they went missing.
Iowa doesn't have the death penalty, but the federal jury recommended a death sentence for the children's murders.
KIMT spoke with Mason City attorney Joel Yunek for a perspective on the news. While he didn't work on this particular case, he does offer insight. Five years ago, then-President Barack Obama directed the U.S. Justice Department to conduct a review of capital punishment. There were concerns surrounding lethal injection drugs; that review is now complete. He believes the federal sentence is the right call to make.
"It's a truly bad person doing a calculated deed, not a crime of passion, a heat of the moment, a mistake. I think there are a lot of cases where I would not think capital punishment would be appropriate, and there are a select few where I think it would be."
"You have to be certain that there is no value to keep the person alive. And I think it has to be a crime that fits that. I don't think it could be a crime of passion. I think it has to be a crime of cold, calculated badness."
Honken's girlfriend, Angela Johnson, was sentenced to death for her involvement but her punishment was reduced to life in prison in 2014.
Honken is being held in Terra Haute, Indiana. Johnson is being held in federal prison in Calswell, Texas.
There are 61 people on the federal death row, according to Death Row USA, a quarterly report of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund said.
Some of the highest-profile inmates on federal death row include Dylann Roof, who killed nine black church members during a Bible study session in 2015 at a South Carolina church, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who set off bombs near the Boston Marathon's finish line in 2013, killing three people and wounding more than 260.
CNN and the Associated Press contributed to this report.