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Death penalty option for decaptitation cases

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THESTATEHOUSEFILE.COM
  • thestatehousefile.com

A state senator said Monday he’s pursuing legislation to ensure that anyone convicted of beheading a victim could be sentenced to death or life without parole.

A case in Oklahoma inspired Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford, to check Indiana law to see if decapitation would be an aggravating circumstance that could lead to the death penalty. Steele said he learned it would not.

“One of the most horrendous crimes one can think of would be to have your spouse or child beheaded,” Steele said in an email to constituents on Monday.

“Decapitation with a hunting knife wouldn’t lend itself to even having an open casket,” he said. “All human decency is stripped from that violent act, whether it is motivated in a jealous rage of a mad spouse or inspired by some religious fanaticism, which our government is at a loss to call it what it is.”

In the Oklahoma case, prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Alton Alexander Nolen, 30, who has been charged with first-degree murder in the death a 54-year-old woman at the plant where he’d been fired. Nolen is accused of stabbing the woman and then beheading her.

Police said Nolen is a practicing Muslim who had been trying to convert co-workers to the religion, something Steele appeared to seize on.

“As a society, we cannot prevent a person from being mean to the core or committing atrocities in the name of religion, but we can up the cost for unspeakable behavior such as beheading,” he said.

In Indiana, prosecutors can seek the death penalty or life without parole in a murder case if they can prove one of 16 aggravating circumstances. The most common is the commission of another serious felony, such as rape or attempted murder, at the time of the original offense.

Other aggravating circumstances include burning, torturing or mutilating a victim before killing them and dismemberment after death. Steele, an attorney, authored the bill in 1995 that added those circumstances to the law.

But Steele said the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency told him that “decapitation technically isn’t mutilation and it isn’t dismemberment after death” and therefore the death penalty might not be an option. So Steele said he asked LSA to draft legislation to add decapitation or an attempted decapitation to the list of crimes punishable by life without parole or the death penalty.

The bill can be considered when lawmakers return in January to the Statehouse for the 2015 legislative session.

Lesley Weidenbener is the executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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