U.S. Executes Iowa Man Who Killed Five People

The U.S. government on Friday put to death an Iowa chemistry student-turned-meth kingpin convicted of killing five people, the third execution by the federal government in a week.

Dustin Honken, 52, who prosecutors said killed key witnesses to stop them from testifying in his drugs case, received a lethal injection at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana. Two others were also put to death during the week after a hiatus of nearly 20 years, including Wesley Purkey. His lawyers contended he had dementia and didn’t know why he was being executed.

The first in the spate of federal executions happened Tuesday when Daniel Lewis Lee was put to death for killing a family in the 1990s as part of a plot to build a whites-only nation. Lee’s execution, like Purkey’s, went ahead only after the U.S. Supreme Court gave it a green light in a 5-4 decision hours before.

Honken, who had been on death row since 2005, was pronounced dead at 4:36 p.m. The inmate — known for his verbosity at trial and for making a long statement of his innocence at his sentencing — spoke only briefly, neither addressing victims’ family members nor saying he was sorry. His last words were, “Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for me.”

Honken’s lawyer, Shawn Nolan, said his client was “redeemed” and had repented for his crimes. Honken was a devout Catholic who “cared for everyone he came into contact with” in prison, Nolan said.

“There was no reason for the government to kill him, in haste or at all. In any case, they failed. The Dustin Honken they wanted to kill is long gone,” Nolan said. “The man they killed today was a human being, who could have spent the rest of his days helping others and further redeeming himself. May he rest in peace.”

In a statement, Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec said “just punishment has been carried out.”

“Nearly three decades after Honken coldly ended the lives of five people, including two young girls, all in an effort to protect himself and his criminal enterprise, he has finally faced justice,” Kupec said.

After officials began administering the lethal injection, Honken began blinking his eyes and his fingers twitched. After several minutes his breathing became more labored. He turned increasingly ashen as blood drained from his face and hands. His hands gradually stopped twitching, and his breathing became shallower.

Honken was pronounced dead about 30 minutes after the process began — longer than the other two executions. An official with a stethoscope walked into the small death chamber, put his fingers on Honken’s neck to check for a pulse, listened for a heartbeat, then exited.

Seconds later, officials announced the time of death.

Honken, whose crimes struck at the foundation of the U.S. justice system, always seemed the least likely to win a reprieve from the courts. After the two previous executions were stopped and started amid back-and-forth legal maneuvering, Honken’s began almost on the minute it was scheduled.

While out on bond in his drugs case in July 1993, Honken and his girlfriend Angela Johnson kidnapped Lori Duncan and her two daughters from their Mason City, Iowa, home, then killed and buried them in a wooded area nearby. Ten-year-old Kandi and 6-year-old Amber were still in their swimsuits on the hot summer day when they were shot execution-style in the back of the head.

Their primary target that day was Lori Duncan’s then-boyfriend, Greg Nicholson, who also lived at the home and was also killed. He and Lori Duncan were bound and gagged and shot multiple times. Honken had recently learned Nicholson, a former drug-dealing associate, was cooperating with investigators and would likely testify against Honken at trial.

Lori Duncan didn’t know Nicholson was an informant and she wasn’t involved in drugs.

As the investigation into Honken continued, he killed another drug dealer working with him, Terry DeGeus, beating him with a bat and shooting him.

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