In a potentially groundbreaking decision, the Louisiana Supreme Court recently upheld a death sentence for a defendant convicted of raping an eight-year-old girl. Few states allow the death penalty when a defendant’s crime did not result in the death of his victim.
In this case, Patrick Kennedy was convicted of raping his step-daughter. The girl’s physical injuries required surgery to repair. Her emotional wounds may never heal. Kennedy blamed two neighborhood boys. The girl originally backed up her step-father, but later told a therapist he was the real culprit.
In 1977, the U.S. Supreme refused to allow the death penalty for a man convicted of raping a 16-year-old. In the past few years, the Court has rejected death sentences for minors and the mentally retarded, saying they couldn’t be sufficiently responsible for their crimes to apply the ultimate penalty.
Following the 1977 ruling, Louisiana rewrote its laws to allow a sentence of death for anyone convicted of raping a victim under the age of twelve. The Louisiana Court relied on the U.S. Supreme Court’s declaration that the death penalty should be reserved for those who commit “a narrow category of the most serious crimes,” to uphold the Kennedy’s death sentence.
If and when this case makes it to the Supreme Court, the justices will need to consider whether allowing Kennedy to be executed could set the justice system on a slippery slope. Currently, the Court only acknowledges death sentences when the victim actually dies. Allowing a death sentence for a crime where the victim survives could lead to more and more crimes becoming death penalty eligible. The question to be resolved is where capital punishment will stop.