The only inmate on any U.S. death row for rape contends that his conviction should be thrown out because the Louisiana law allowing the penalty for raping a child is unconstitutional.Chief Justice Pascal Calogero took arguments and briefs under advisement after a hearing Wednesday, and did not say when the high court will rule.
The 42-year-old Harvey man was convicted in 2003 of aggravated rape of his stepdaughter; his name has been withheld from news reports to protect the girl.
She was 8 years old when she told Jefferson Parish sheriff's deputies in March 1998 that she had been raped by one of two men who had dragged her from her garage to a vacant house. Eighteen months later, she told her mother that it was her stepfather who had raped her.
The man is the only person convicted under the 1995 law, which allows the death penalty for aggravated rape of someone less than 12 years old.
He also is the only person sentenced to death for a crime other than murder since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1977 that murder was the only crime for which the death penalty was constitutional, Nick Trenticosta, a New Orleans attorney who has handled numerous death row appeals, said in 2003.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that courts must consider the nation's "present judgment" toward the death penalty, Stern said. He said the small number of states with the death penalty for child rape shows it is not widely supported.
Stern also said the penalty is disproportionate to the crime. "The crime of child rape is heinous," he told the justices. "But as horrible as it is, it is not the same as murder."
Clark said the serious physical, emotional and psychological effects on the victim make child rape comparable to murder. "It's the murder of a victim's innocence," she said.
Jefferson Parish has prosecuted about a dozen people under the law, but either the defendants reached plea bargains or juries did not call for death, she said.
The fact that the Jefferson Parish has sought the death penalty against several other child rapists who did not kill their victim, but was only able in this one case to convince a jury to sentence someone to death, argues in favor of there being a national consensus against the death penalty except in cases where a killing has taken place.