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For decades, capital punishment has been reserved for those who have killed. But the Supreme Court on Jan. 4 granted review in a Louisiana case that could lead to re-examination of attitudes about rape. In Kennedy v. Louisiana, Patrick Kennedy was sentenced to death for raping his 8-year-old stepdaughter. Louisiana law allows the death penalty for aggravated rape when the victim is 12 or under. Kennedy’s lawyer, Stanford University Law School professor Jeffrey Fisher, argues that executing his client would be a classic “cruel and unusual” punishment barred by the Eighth Amendment, because Kennedy is the only person on death row in the United States who has not committed murder. He also asserts that child witness testimony is too unreliable. But Louisiana asserts that rape, especially child rape, is now viewed as more devastating than any other crime short of homicide — and should therefore justify execution.
Tony Mauro can be contacted at [email protected].

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