The Supreme Court said yesterday that it will decide whether the death penalty may be imposed on someone who rapes a child, reopening the issue of which crimes are punishable by death.
The court said in 1977 that execution was an “excessive penalty for the rapist who, as such, does not take human life.” But the victim in the case was an adult, and while 45 states now ban the death penalty for any kind of rape, the others allow it if the victim is a child.
Louisiana is one, and Patrick Kennedy was sentenced to death for the rape of his 8-year-old stepdaughter in 1998. Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas also make the death penalty an option, but only Louisiana has pursued an execution.
Kennedy was the only person in the nation on death row for a crime other than murder when he asked the court to take his case, but last month Louisiana obtained the death penalty against a second man convicted of child rape.
The nation’s last executions for crimes that did not include murder were carried out in 1964.
The case adds to the capital punishment reviews the Supreme Court has agreed to undertake this term. It already has heard another case from Louisiana in which petitioners claim a prosecutor improperly excluded blacks from a jury and then prejudiced the outcome by making references to O.J. Simpson.
On Monday, the justices will hear an important case that challenges whether the procedures used in lethal injection, by far the most common method of execution in the nation, violate the Eighth Amendment.