Iowa carried out 46 executions between 1834 and 1965. All of those executed were men; 43 were executed for murder and 3 were executed for rape.
Iowa’s original death penalty statute remained active until 1872. Gov. Cyrus Carpenter, spurred by an active anti-death penalty Quaker and Unitarian population, signed the first legislation to abolish the death penalty in Iowa. The abolition did not last long however, as a national economic depression and a wave of crime swept over Iowa in the years shortly after. Mobs began taking what they saw as justice into their own hands, lynching several accused or convicted defendants in the six years after abolition. The lynchings were blamed largely on the absence of a death penalty. In 1878, capital punishment was reinstated by the Iowa legislature in order to bring an end to lynchings and to attempt to stem the flood of crime that had hit the state.
In 1964 another abolition bill was presented before the state government. In 1965, Gov. Harold Hughes signed the bill and abolished Iowa’s death penalty for a second time. Since then, numerous attempts have been made at reinstatement. The most serious of these reinstatement efforts came in the wake of the kidnapping, sexual assault, and murder of nine-year old Anne Marie Emry in 1994. Although Gov. Terry Branstad made reinstatement of the death penalty central to his 1994 reelection campaign, none of the proposed measures were able to pass both houses of Iowa’s state legislature. (Gov. Branstad is also the current governor, having been reelected in 2011.)
Recent public opinion surveys have shown that a majority of Iowans tend to favor capital punishment, but although support is broad, it is not very deep. Nevertheless, pro-capital punishment forces have become stronger and more organized in the state and Iowa’s checkered history with the death penalty may be ready to repeat itself.