Dustin Lee Honken: Death row inmate who killed family of four, including two kids, to be executed on July 17

Honken will be among the first few to be executed after 17 years by the Justice Department ever since the practice was halted after 2003

                            Dustin Lee Honken: Death row inmate who killed family of four, including two kids, to be executed on July 17
(Mason City Police Department)

Death row inmate Dustin Lee Honken, who killed a family of four, including two children, and another person, is set to be executed on July 17. Honken will be among the first few to be executed after 17 years by the Justice Department, ever since the practice was halted after 2003. The new dates of at least four executions starting mid-July were announced by the federal agency on June 15.

Honken, a college chemistry whiz, became one of the Midwest’s early, large-scale producers of nearly pure methamphetamine in the early 1990s. He initiated his meth operation in Arizona, and later brought it to Iowa. He sold several pounds of meth to two men from Iowa - Greg Nicholson, and Terry DeGues. The pair became government informants after Honken was arrested by federal authorities in March 1993. During his negotiation with the authorities, Honken learned that Nicholson was cooperating with the government. In July 1993, Honken relented and agreed to plead guilty of federal drug charges, however, a week before he was scheduled to make a court appearance, Nicholson disappeared. 

Nicholson, along with his 32-year-old girlfriend Lori Duncan and her two daughters, 10-year-old Kandi, and six-year-old Amber, all went missing from their Mason city home. Honken then backed out of his plea and the government had to drop the case. Months later, in November 1992, DeGues, who was also helping the feds, disappeared.

Years later, in 1996, Honken was arrested again after authorities executed a search warrant in his house and found a meth lab inside. Iowa Crime Investigation unit excavated his property to find clues of Nicholson and his family's disappearance but did not find anything. Nearly four years later, with Honken serving a prison sentence, his girlfriend Angela Johnson, who was also in prison at the time, told a jailhouse informant, Robert McNeese, in October 2000 where the bodies of the missing victims were hidden. McNeese provided a map to authorities, pointing to two spots where the bodies were located.

The remains of Nicholson, Lori Duncan, and her two daughters were found buried in a wooded area just off Cerro Gordo County Road S34 west of Mason City on October 13, 2000. While DeGeus' remains were found in a farm field one mile west of Burchinal. An autopsy of the bodies revealed that all five Iowans had suffered gunshot wounds. 

After a lengthy trial, Honken was found guilty of all five murders and was given the death penalty by jurors in 2005. He was given two death sentences for killing two young children and was given an additional life sentence for murdering two adults. Honken, 37 at the time, became the first person to be sentenced to death in Iowa in over 40 years. He, however, maintained his innocence shortly after being sentenced with death penalty and accused the judge in the case of having a "death agenda."

Honken, while addressing U.S. District Judge Mark Bennett at his sentencing, had said: "I have taken no persons’ lives. You believe me guilty, but it is not so. I have committed many wrongs but never have I taken another life."

Honken's lawyer, Shawn Nolan, in a statement to MEA Worldwide, said: "Dustin Lee Honken has served twelve years on federal death row in solitary confinement as a result of proceedings that reflect many of the fundamental flaws in the federal death penalty system. Mr. Honken's death sentence was imposed for murders committed in the state of Iowa, which abolished the death penalty in 1965, and which could have prosecuted Mr. Honken in state court. Additionally, his trial and sentencing were plagued by misconduct and the ineffectiveness of counsel, who failed to adequately inform Mr. Honken's jury of his severely dysfunctional background or his resultant mental health problems. He was then denied full and fair review of these defects in federal habeas proceedings. Despite these flaws, each of which implicates essential constitutional guarantees, the government now seeks to execute Mr. Honken, a deeply remorseful and devout Catholic and loving father of two children."

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