Death-penalty phase begins in Iowa drug-related slayings
By Todd Dvorak
SIOUX CITY, Iowa -- Dustin Honken, a drug dealer convicted of murdering five people, grew up in a home torn apart by his father's alcoholism, his sister testified Tuesday as jurors prepare to consider the death penalty.
In an emotional second day of testimony in the penalty phase of Honken's trial, relatives and friends spoke of Honken as a loving brother and father.
The former methamphetamine dealer was convicted last week in the 1993 execution-style slayings of five people, setting the stage for the first death penalty deliberations in Iowa in 41 years.
U.S. District Judge Mark Bennett excused jurors after just 90 minutes Tuesday, citing scheduling problems involving witnesses.
Defense attorneys are using witnesses to highlight the challenges -- mental and emotional -- Honken faced growing up.
Honken, now serving a 27-year sentence on drug charges, faces the death penalty for his role in the execution-style slayings of two of his former dealers who had agreed to cooperate with federal agents.
One of the informants, Greg Nicholson, disappeared in July 1993, along with his girlfriend, Lori Duncan, and her two young daughters. A second informant, Terry DeGeus, disappeared months later.
The bodies, buried just outside Mason City, were discovered in 2001.
Honken was convicted on 17 criminal counts stemming from the murders, including witness tampering and committing murder while engaged in drug trafficking.
The death penalty applies to 10 of the 17 counts. The jury, which could begin deliberations as early as Thursday, must be unanimous on at least one of those counts to impose the death penalty.