April 16th, 2008
07:30 PM ET

Death for rape?

Sean Callebs
CNN Correspondent

Turn to someone near you, ask the question, "does someone deserve the death penalty for a non-homicide crime?" Now ask it this way:  Should someone be sentenced to die for raping a young child?

It's a question before the U.S. Supreme Court, involving a Louisiana case. It's been going on 50 years since anyone was executed in this country for a crime other than murder.

Patrick Kennedy was convicted of raping his eight-year-old stepdaughter in 1998. Kennedy is 6'4" and a mammoth 300 pounds. If Kennedy would have committed the heinous crime in any other state, he would have faced a maximum of a life behind bars.

But in 1995, Louisiana became the first state to impose the punishment of death for child rape. (Incidentally, the state lawmaker who drafted the legislation is David Vitter. Now a U.S. Senator he has his own problems after being linked to the D.C. Madam and didnt return our calls)

Kennedy's attorneys say the death sentence for child rape is the definition for cruel and unusual punishment. The Louisiana Foundation against Sexual Assaults, a victims rights organization has weighed in. The group doesn't want Kennedy executed. Its rationale? If child rapists know they face the death penalty why not just go ahead and kill the child. Chilling stuff.

Five other states have followed Louisiana and now have the death penalty for child rape. Prosecutors and defense attorneys are closely watching what the high court will decide. Perhaps you want to know what happened to that eight-year-old girl. Her family wants Kennedy to die. The girl is now in college and wants to be a lawyer.

Rape robs a child of innocence. Depending on what the high court does, criminals may pay the ultimate price for an unspeakable crime.                  

Filed under: Crime & Punishment
soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. helga

    I can not tell you if raping a child deserves the death penalty, but if he
    gets it, the murderers of Martin Lee Anderson in a boot-camp deserve
    it too. But instead they walked free. It is a lot of injustice in America!

    May 27, 2008 at 3:29 pm |
  2. Alexander

    The best defense against using the Death penalty against rapists is that it may lead to the death of the victim. But, to say it is cruel or unusual or an ineffecient deterrent is inaccurate. Death row inmates fight with appeal after appeal to avoid the date their punishment is carried out, so obviously this punishment would make a very satisfactory detterent. As for it being cruel and unusual, the death penalty has been a punishment for the most heinous of crimes since the beginning of civilization. So, really, to call it cruel and unusual or to say it doesn't fit the crime, is to say that it is a lesser crime to murder, but at least a murder victim doesn't have to continue suffering.

    April 19, 2008 at 12:28 am |
  3. thasan/ohio

    As a product of child rape.. i can honestly say that yes..death for rape in cases where children are concerned is appropriate. Simply put, a rapist or child molester KILLS that child's childhood.. and pre-maturely exposes the child to the negatives of life before it would have. as well as robs the child of his or her innocence. On the other hand, as much as i would love to go on a child-raping killing spree of these animals.. it would not be a good idea to apply the death penalty because then losers would actually resort to killing their victims.

    April 17, 2008 at 2:45 pm |
  4. Melissa

    This eight-year old child was so brutally raped that she had to have numerous surgeries to repair the physical damage that was done. I cannot fathom the emotional damage of not only going through the experience of the rape but the aftermath of having those surgeries and having to live with it. Patrick Kennedy did kill her by killing off her her innocence, security, and the right to have given up her virginity to a person of her choice. I have no sympathy whatsoever for Patrick Kennedy and people like him and would gladly pull the trigger. Our jails are overcrowded as is with these people who take away from society instead of adding to it.

    April 17, 2008 at 1:57 pm |
  5. Lesli

    My response is simple and quick.

    If you don't want to pay with your life – don't rape a child!

    Easy decision.

    April 17, 2008 at 1:38 pm |
  6. Slater

    @ Dan: Good luck with that theory. What you speak of is simply an accepted sexual outlet for prisoners. Their entire life becomes the subculture of prison, and what is accepted carries no shame. Deviant sexual predators enjoy deviant sexual behavior: don't for a minute think that this is punishment to them. If you do, you have been watching too many movies.

    The maximum penalty for child rape in Colorado is 10 years imprisonment. When that child rapist leaves prison after serving that sentence, they merely need to register themselves and this is monitored poorly by the system at best. There is a new bill on the floor now to make child rape cases that have DNA evidence carry the death penalty; all other cases carry life imprisonment.

    You underestimate the cleverness of these criminals. Because I live, breathe and eat the judicial system, I see them for what they are.

    When your child is raped, and you are looking into their innocent eyes with anger beyond measure because you know that not only have they been wrongly violated, not only will this punishment NOT fit the crime, but deep down in places where you go when you close your eyes to sleep at night you know that predator just passed the torch of sexual deviance to your child.

    April 17, 2008 at 1:06 pm |
  7. Justin, Chicago

    When you execute someone it should be because they can no longer exist as a human being but it seems when we do it in this country it is for revenge. When you let your emotions get involved with how to handle horrific crime your judgment are often wrong. The use of capital punishment should be made carefully. Executions in America have become nothing more that legalized public murder.

    April 17, 2008 at 12:58 pm |
  8. Genessa

    Sad to say, I've been violently raped, and I have never quite recovered from it... it changed my life in big and small ways forever (and I was in my 20s). It is hard to imagine the effect it would have on a young child. I don't think death is too high a price to pay for forever damaging the life of an innocent child, in some ways worse than killing them.

    April 17, 2008 at 11:26 am |
  9. Dan (TX)

    Why are Americans so terrified of sexual predators? How did they become any more horrible than those who inflict permanent bodily injury?
    Where do we draw the line for crimes appropriate for the death penalty? Assualt, attempted murder, drunk driving??
    While child-rape is heinous, it doesn't merit the death penalty. Let the inmates take care of the child-rapist in prison instead! 🙂

    April 17, 2008 at 11:26 am |
  10. Slater

    You know, I just don't understand it. I watch people shuffle in and out of the courtroom everyday and just shake my head at the sheer audacity of the mindset that bogging down the judicial economy with appeal cases is good for the country's overall economy.

    When you think liberally, you believe all have the right to live. All do, however, laws are set down to manage cultures and society so that law abiding people have rights and the penal system is designed to punish those who do not.

    I have to say, when you put a convicted murderer to death, it not only boosts morale for the society around the institution housing the inmate (think safety of society when these convicts are put to death), it also leaves room for the rehabilitation of those who are able to pass through the system and learn from paying their debt to society. How safe can a community be with horrendous convicted murderers housed in a facility that are never 100% escape proof?

    Hold that thought.

    How effective is our penal system if horrendous murderers are allowed to be housed with convicts of lesser convicted crimes? Do not for a minute fool yourself into believing that these inmates do not teach one another their "murderous" skills and or crime committing skills.

    The only thing I would change in our system, being an enforcer of these laws, are the following:

    Only cases with DNA or fingerprint evidence are eligible for the death penalty;

    Only cases with substantial supporting evidence are eligible for life with or without parole;

    All other cases, including circumstantial, are eligible for the maximum sentence set out by the law in those circumstances.

    April 17, 2008 at 11:24 am |
  11. Claudia

    The death penalty is the only way to send a message to a child rapist our children are our responsibility to protect and if they are violated, death is the penalty. There have been too many cases of rapist getting out and continue raping and killing because these people can't be monitored in society, the system does not work effectively.

    April 17, 2008 at 11:06 am |
  12. Barry, IL

    I think it's fair to sentence child-rapists to death penalty. What child rapists do is the same as, if not worse than killing. Child-rapists kill the soul of children for the rest of their lives.

    April 17, 2008 at 10:25 am |
  13. Taj

    No, for death penalty for rape. Incarceration short term, long term or life in prison as decided by law is more appropriate.

    April 17, 2008 at 10:22 am |
  14. Rahni, Connecticut

    The death penalty should be implemented in a rape case. Especially a rape of a female child who womb was destroy by an adult male.

    Rahni, Connecticut

    April 17, 2008 at 10:02 am |
  15. Dolores, Austin Texas

    As a mother and grandmother, I say, that the punishment is just, think about what this precious little girl will have go through for the rest of her life, she may never have the chance to be a mother herself., she may never be able to have a meaningful relationship with the one that she loves. Also think about the pain that society will impose on this poor innocent little girl. Yes, some of you say she was the lucky one, yes, she was lucky that he chose not to take her life, but the reality of it all is that her innocence was taken away and she will never be the same, ever. This sick horrible person deserves this punishment and more. May God Bless this precious little girl. I think the state of Louisiana did the right thing.

    April 17, 2008 at 9:32 am |
  16. Anne

    I am against the death penalty. Too many innocent people have been accused of crimes they did not commit. As long as there is a chance that even one innocent person is executed, then executions should be banned. (There was a case just last year where 4 college students were accused of rape. With the help of excellent lawyers the charges were dropped. The prosecutor witheld information, the defendant could not back her charges. The four students said that, if they had been unable to pay for execellent legal help, they would probably have been charged with the crime and would have spent the next 25 to 30 years in jail). THINK ABOUT IT!

    April 17, 2008 at 7:38 am |
  17. Brandi down the bayou.

    ok, lets try this again.

    For Linda

    I respect your position, however, most peope find the rape of a child abominable, as do i.

    I am a survivor of molestation by a relative as a child. As an adult, I tried to forgive that relative and actually helped take care of him prior to his death. I helped take care of him until I caught him trying to get one of my sons friends (a young girl) into the door of his home. These offenders seldomly believe they did anything wrong.

    Hence, I will agree to disagree, but still respect your position as it is part of being a citizen of a democratic nation.

    April 17, 2008 at 12:26 am |
  18. linda., bella vista, ar

    Only 38 states have the death penalty for any crime. Thankfully, until recently I lived in one of those.

    All your coverage and 'polls' assume that 'all' support capital punishment.

    Many do NOT support the death penalty at all. Life without Parole should be the max.

    April 16, 2008 at 11:25 pm |
  19. Patty

    Rape of a child, with extreme circumstances, such as a relative,
    a very young child or multiple victims should make castration an option. The fact is, pedophilia has no cure.

    April 16, 2008 at 11:17 pm |
  20. Brandi down the bayou.

    Wow, Teresa, pretty strong view there, gotta agree with you for the most part.

    Personally, I think a life sentence is too easy, plus, they can still "enjoy" themselves to a degree, or at least others will. lol

    Still like my hatchet idea.

    April 16, 2008 at 9:53 pm |
  21. Teresa

    Until about 10 yrs. ago, I didnt believe in the death penalty. I thought true punishment would be sitting locked up and getting time to think about his behavior. Now, I just want them all dead. If I take a life purposely, please take my life.

    If a grown man rapes a child, please kill him. His pleasure isn't worth the damage he inflicts on that child for the rest of the child's life. A woman rapist? Kill her too. No more nice guy.

    My ONLY hesitation would be: is there a surefire way to know 100% that the child was raped? what if the perp uses a condom? what if a child can lie?

    Anymore: I think we should kill people who CHOOSE to do crimes that do so much damage to innocent people. Life is to short to give criminals a POSSIBLE second chance.

    April 16, 2008 at 9:43 pm |
  22. Brandi down the bayou.

    Only in Louisiana,

    Wow. If this is your home state, as it is mine, im a little surprised that you have such disdain for the way things are done here. Im quite the activist, environmentally anyway, but our politics have always been this way and it doesnt look like it will change anytime soon.

    I mean, lets face it, how many times did we re-elect the dear former Governor Edwin Edwards knowing full well he was lining his pockets the entire time and not even trying to hide it?

    Hmmm...Im proud and happy to live in Louisiana, the culture is beautiful and the scenery even better, yeah, we have a lot of "good ole boys" down here, but they are a big part of that culture.

    Child rape is horrible, there was a previous case in my hometown, a grandfather raped his 2 year old granddaughter, she died from the injuries. He didnt get death as far as I know.

    Personally, I think the punishment for these individuals should involve a hatchet and someone with really bad aim.

    April 16, 2008 at 9:36 pm |
  23. Annie Kate

    Child rape is an unspeakably horrible crime – to rob the child of their innocence and trust not to mention the physical violation that will affect the child psychologically for years deserves a harsh punishment. However, I agree with the people who are afraid that if the death penalty is the punishment awaiting the molester he/she has added incentive to kill the child as well. Surely in this day and age we can come up with a punishment that is a real deterrent and that doesn't give the rapist added incentive to kill as well as rape.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    April 16, 2008 at 9:10 pm |
  24. Jo Ann


    No matter how hard I try, it is impossible not to have some opinion on this case. I understand the concern by The Louisiana Foundation against Sexual Assaults that some child rapists may just go ahead and kill the child if the death penalty applies, but if that is true why didn’t Kennedy kill the girl he raped. Wasn’t he aware that he could face the death penalty if he committed this crime in Louisiana? Just the fact that this organization would even suggest that these rapists have the potential to commit murder is further evidence that these are dangerous individuals and that the death penalty should be applied.

    Let’s be honest, the penalty of life behind bars doesn’t really mean “life behind bars.”

    It doesn’t matter who drafted the legislation. I hope you realize that there is a world of difference between hiring a willing prostitute and raping an innocent child.

    Kennedy’s attorneys think that the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment for him; I think his crime was cruel and unusual for the child he raped. What price would any of us put on the loss of innocence? This girl was lucky, but what about the other children who may not have been able to cope with being raped? Maybe the death penalty is a just punishment for something that can never be repaid.

    Jo Ann
    North Royalton, Ohio

    April 16, 2008 at 8:25 pm |
  25. Tracey - Boston

    Yes I agree. There are so many people that have had some type of childhood molestation and rape. If a poll were to be taken it would prove that about 10-25% people have suffered some type of molestation or rape.

    It effects all aspects of their life: relationships with the opposite sex (whomever the rapist); self-esteem issues; basic day-to-day interactions; and possibly life long medical conditions.

    To one day have to see that person out of the blue could be detrimental to the health of the victim.

    April 16, 2008 at 8:20 pm |
  26. Joseph Kowalski, North Huntingdon, PA

    The death penalty should never be used for any crime. Using the death penalty isn't a deterrent to crime, and when our government uses the death penalty, our culture of violence and death is run full circle, trapped in a perpetual loop of death and violence.

    Heinous crimes such as this one should be punished with a life sentence with no parole...ever.

    April 16, 2008 at 8:20 pm |
  27. Sherri

    While I agree with the view that having the crime of child rape carry the death penalty might lead to the victim's death- I feel strongly it should remain a valid punishment. I find the 'cruel and unusual' defense as ludicrous. The crimes- horrific and unspeakable- demand a consequence as severe. Our society is unraveling and when a criminal is caught, irrefutable evidence presented and punishment meted out- it seems nowadays a watered down slap on the wrist is the end result. We can't keep building prisons- that's a fact. Recividism is a given. Therapy- every day another criminal who has committed this type of travesty against a child returns to what they know- hurting children. The price the child pays is all encompassing- forever they are changed and in some instances grow to do harm to others as well. Society has to have checks and balances, bad acts will bring unpleasant punishments. Given the technology today, I think it could be said that the likelihood of the perpetrator of child rape can be identified without a doubt. Years of appeals, millions of dollars spent at the publics' expense to house such people, court calendars' clogged, slowing the already slow wheels of justice to a near standstill. I think the death penalty sends a message- our children are beyond price to us and we are willing to make a very difficult and complex decision to remove those who would ravage them from our midst.

    April 16, 2008 at 8:15 pm |
  28. Mrs. R.

    The high court's ruling will be interesting.

    Would this ruling have impact on what's happening w/FLDS? If it can be proven which men committed statutory rape of the the children of varying ages, what would their punishment be?

    April 16, 2008 at 8:13 pm |
  29. Only in Louisiana

    And killing child molesters brings back what these kids lost how? Murder as a way of healing. Call Oprah. Get a book deal. Only my home state would be this nuts. I want to stay here, raise a child here because it"s home and has a pretty awesome culture, and grow old here. Then I read garbage like this and think moving far, far away to another more forward thinking state would probably be the best thing I could ever do for myself. We created the impetus for Dead Man Walking. Didn't anybody learn anything from Sister Helen?

    April 16, 2008 at 8:12 pm |
  30. Brandi down the bayou.

    Oh yes, us Southerners' have a special way of doing thangs.

    April 16, 2008 at 7:54 pm |
  31. Lilibeth

    Rape is an unspeakable crime, no doubt about it. Nobody...girl, boy, man, woman...should have to go through it. Because of the violence inherent in rape, I wouldn’t be opposed to the death penalty for the criminal. Cruel and unusual punishment, you might say? Well, isn’t the act of raping someone cruel and unusual? Based on that rationale, I would say the punishment of death fits the crime.

    Edmonds, Washington

    April 16, 2008 at 7:54 pm |

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