Blunt proposes death penalty for child rapists

Friday, December 14, 2007

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Gov. Matt Blunt wants child rapists to be executed.

Missouri's governor Thursday proposed legislation allowing the death sentence for people convicted of forcibly raping or sodomizing a child younger than 12.

"When somebody rapes a very young child, they should have to pay the ultimate penalty for that terrible crime," Blunt said. "This is not a crime that ever goes away -- it leaves permanent scars."

Missouri currently allows the death penalty only for people convicted of first-degree murder. But the state hasn't executed anyone since October 2005 because of a legal challenge to its method of lethal injection.

In recent years, several other states have enacted laws allowing the death penalty for people who rape children.

A new Texas law allows executions for people convicted of a second offense of raping a child younger than 14. Oklahoma and South Carolina enacted death penalty laws in 2006 that also apply to repeat child sex offenders, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

But so far, Louisiana is the only state to have sentenced a child rapist to death since the U.S. Supreme Court reauthorized the death penalty in 1976.

On Wednesday, jurors in Caddo Parish, La., ordered the death sentence for Richard Davis for the repeated rape of a 5-year-old girl. And in May, the Louisiana Supreme Court upheld the death sentence of Patrick Kennedy for raping an 8-year-old relative in 1998.

If the high court takes up Kennedy's case, it could shed new light on its 1977 decision that the death penalty for rape violated the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

The court said then that its ruling applied only to adult victims.

Blunt said Thursday that he believed his proposal was constitutional.

The question the U.S. Supreme Court would have to consider is whether the determining constitutional factor for the death penalty hinges on the nature of the crime -- murder vs. rape -- or on the age of the victim, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

Blunt announced his proposal to expand Missouri's death penalty on the same day the New Jersey legislature voted to abolish its death penalty law.

Punishments for child rapists have gained heightened attention in Missouri after the arrest and guilty pleas this year of Michael Devlin for kidnapping and repeatedly raping two eastern Missouri boys.

In October, state Sen. John Loudon, a Republican from suburban St. Louis, said he would sponsor legislation allowing the death penalty for "aggravated child kidnapping" -- a proposed new crime defined as kidnapping or confining someone younger than 18 and then raping or sodomizing the child.

Loudon said Thursday that he was interested in Blunt's proposal.

But under either his plan or the governor's, Loudon said he did not expect many child rapists to be sentenced to die in Missouri.

"The main thing here is to give grieving families options, and beyond that give law enforcement every tool we can," Loudon said. "My anticipation is that you have that charge available for the prosecutors, and that they can plead the case down to life without parole."

In January, Blunt proposed to make the death penalty mandatory for criminals who kill law enforcement officers unless they could prove their lives should be spared. That bill passed the House but never came to a vote in the Senate. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1976 that other states' mandatory death penalty laws were unconstitutional.

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