By Chris Arnold
INDIANAPOLIS – A Senate committee passed a bill unanimously Tuesday that would make murderers eligible for the death penalty if they decapitate or attempt to decapitate a victim who is still alive.
Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford, authored Senate Bill 8 after he learned about an Oklahoma beheading last fall.
Steele said the bill is meant to clarify current law, which allows the death penalty in situations involving dismemberment and if the victim is burned, mutilated or tortured. The latter provisions were added by a law Steele authored when he was first elected and came after a Madison case in which a 12-year-old was tortured and murdered by a group of teen girls.
But Steele said it’s not clear whether those provisions would apply to a decapitation that occurs before death.
“It clarifies what has obviously been a problem in interpreting the language of disfigurement,” Steele said. He called decapitation one of the most gruesome ways to die and said it deserves life in prison or the death penalty.
A few members of the committee were confused about what is considered as decapitation. They had questions about whether slicing the throat or cutting the carotid artery would constitute an attempt to cut a head off. Steele said he did not believe those actions would fall under the provisions of the bill.
Steele said he understands that decapitations are not frequent crimes and he said he hopes Indiana never sees anything like this.
“Nationally, since I filed the law, there have been four decapitations that I can find,” Steele said. “I would hope Indiana would not have any, but they may be become more frequent as times go on.”
Glenn Tebbe, a lobbyist for the Indiana Catholic Conference, spoke against the bill. He said that while he supports efforts to prevent the crimes, he also said there is a better way to handle such a situation.
The state can “honor the victim and society without resorting to the death penalty,” he said.
The bill will now move to the full Senate where it can be amended, but Steele said he’s confident it will pass into law.
“I believe it will,” said Sen. Steele. “I was the one that modified the statute to add burn, disfigure, or torture back in 1995 or (1996) and it sailed through both houses rather quickly and the governor signed it. So I don’t expect any problems here.”
Chris Arnold is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.