An ruthless Iowa methpine kingpin who killed five people, including two girls, in 1993 to thwart his drug-trafficking prosecution will become the third federal inmate executed this week. Dustin Honken, 52, would become the first Iowa defendant to be executed since 1963 if executed as scheduled Friday. Iowa abolished the death penalty in 1965, but federal prosecutors tried to execute Honken for killing government informants and children.
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Honken is destined to die by lethal injection at Terre Haute Prison, Indiana, where he has been sentenced to death since 2005 and two other men have been executed since Tuesday after a 17-year break in federal executions. Their calls to delay execution so far have been denied.
He deserves what he’s getting. I can tell you that. He deserved it a long time ago, said Susan Torres, 54, who plans to attend the execution with the relatives of other victims.
Torres, who lives in Des Moines, Iowa, was Lori Duncan’s sister-in-law before her brother and Duncan separated and she was the aunt of Duncan’s daughters, 10-year-old Kandi, and 6-year-old Amber. Duncan, her new boyfriend, Greg Nicholson, and their daughters were kidnapped and killed by Honken and his girlfriend in 1993, seven years before their bodies were found. Mark Bennett, the federal judge who oversaw Honken’s trial, said he generally opposes the death penalty, but that if anyone deserved to be executed, it was Honken. He said Honken’s crimes were reprehensible and that Honken had a fair legal process, including talented lawyers who «did outstanding work with virtually nothing to work with.» I’m not going to lose sleep if it’s executed,» said Bennett, who has since retired from the bank. «Normally I would, but the evidence was so overwhelming.»
Honken grew up in the northern Iowa town of Britt, as the brilliant but tortuous son of an alcoholic father who was convicted of robbing banks. Honken was selling marijuana and cocaine in the early 1990s, and began cooking methamphetamine after studying chemistry at a community college. He and a friend moved to Arizona to produce the drug in the hope of enriching themselves, and distributed their product through two Mason City- based distributors, Iowa.Nicholson, who was one of the traffickers, began cooperating with investigators in 1993 after suspecting it. Honken was arrested and charged with conspiring to make methamphetamine after Nicholson secretly searched Honken and testified before a grand jury. Honken informed the court that he would plead guilty. But days before his July 1993 hearing, he and his girlfriend, Angela Johnson, went looking for Nicholson. They found him in the house where he had moved into Duncan and his daughters. Duncan did not know that Nicholson was an informant and that she was not involved in drugs, said Torres, whose daughters were playmates with Duncan’s girls.
He was a very sweet innocent person who turned out to be in a bad situation, he told The Associated Press wednesday on the phone.
According to prosecutors, Johnson posed as a cosmetics saleswoman to enter the house. Honken forced 34-year-old Nicholson to record a statement declaring Honken not guilty of drug charges. Nicholson and the Duncans were taken to a remote area, shot dead and buried. Honken withdrew his guilty plea and gave his lawyer the videotape of Nicholson.While continuing the investigation into Honken, Honken’s other distributor, Terry DeGeus, 32, months disappeared after Nicholson and the Duncans did so. Johnson lured DeGeus, with whom he dated before Honken, to a property where Honken hit him with a bat and shot him. Investigators found the bodies of Nicholson and the Duncans in 2000 in a wooded area outside Mason City after Johnson was tricked into giving a hand-drawn map showing where they were buried in a prison informant. The adults had been bound, gagged and shot several times. Each of the girls was shot in the back of the head. DeGeus’ body was found a few miles away, his skull fractured. Bennett said the girls were still in a bathing suit when they were kidnapped on the hot summer day. «It’s horrible how they were massacred, » said the judge. Honken was convicted of the 2004 murders in a trial that featured extraordinary security measures, including an anonymous jury. Honken was bolted to the floor of the courtroom and wore a stun belt under his clothes to prevent escape attempts. The jury recommended that Honken be executed for the girls’ murders, and Bennett agreed. The girls’ father, John Duncan, who had pressed for years for Honken to be executed, died in 2018 of stomach cancer.» I was very sad when I knew it was happening because I wasn’t going to see this happen,» Torres said. «We assured him we’d be there.» Johnson was sentenced in a separate trial and sentenced to death. Bennett later reduced his punishment to life behind bars, which he currently serves in a federal prison in Minnesota.Honken did not respond to an interview request sent last year after the government announced plans to execute him. Honken has two children, one with Johnson and one with another woman, and was a father figure to a third. He wrote in a 2006 newspaper that he felt a «great crushing weight of despair» for failing them.
When those people finally kill me, they will realize that only my shell remains, my heart died a long time ago, he wrote.
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