RONZONE: Rape on death row



Raquel Ronzone

No statistic can express the severity of personal tragedy suffered in the wake of a crime, nonetheless one as devastating as forced sexual intercourse. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, 1-in-6 American women and 1-in-33 American men will be the victim of an attempted or completed rape.

A completed crime of sexual invasion occurs every eight minutes in the United States. Fifteen-of-16 rapists walk away from the scene without spending a day in jail, and in two-thirds of the cases, the perpetrators who committed the heinous crimes are non-strangers to the victim. Fifteen percent of sexual assault and rape victims are under the age of 12.

The story of one female echoes these troublesome facts and adds another figure to them: 44 – the number of years since the United States has executed a person for an offense other than homicide, a number that can soon change with the impending verdict of a Supreme Court trial.

She was an 8-year-old girl in Louisiana when she became the victim of rape at the hands of Patrick Kennedy. The government of Jefferson Parish, a suburb of New Orleans, convicted Kennedy, the girl’s stepfather, and sentenced him to death in 2004, acting in accordance with a statute passed by state legislature in 1995.

The state of Louisiana argues that Kennedy’s wrongdoing is equal to murder and consequently justifies his execution, and the national government has since taken the controversial case.

In Kennedy v. Louisiana, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether the Eight Amendment’s prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment” restricts the execution of a non-homicidal convict who raped a child.

The case marks a pivotal point in the history of capital punishment because American support of it is waning. A 2006 Gallup poll concluded that two-thirds of Americans endorsed the practice for murderers.

However, deciding between the sentences of life in prison without parole and execution, more Americans preferred the non-fatal form of punishment. Recent court rulings banned capital punishment for mentally retarded criminals in 2002 and for offenders under the age of 18 in 2005. These cases corroborate society’s preference for other means of castigation, thus evidencing its capacity to end the death penalty altogether.

Regardless of the mentality or age of the perpetrators or the nature of the crimes that led to it, the death penalty is not the ideal. It is a reaction. It is contingent upon the occurrence of societal evils, committed by ill-intentioned men and women. Therefore, the argument that capital punishment, in and of itself, violates “evolving standards of decency” is not even applicable because that fatal sentence depends entirely on other factors.

Documentation for Kennedy v. Louisiana explains the reasons that prompted the United Kingdom’s eventual abolition of the death penalty. The government there ruled in 1841 that rape did not justify execution; after 1861, murder was the only crime that could mandate capital punishment. Officials asserted that the death of individuals who did not cause death was “excessive and inconsistent with evolving standards of decency.”

If the “standards of decency” truly matured in the United States as they allegedly did in the United Kingdom, then thousands of American men, women and children would not become victims of sexual abuse or rape each year. Execution is not the preferred response to any fatal or non-fatal crime; the violation of countless members of the population is not a desired outcome either.

The notion that the punishment of an offender must fit his or her crime is no less relevant to rape than to murder.

The intrusion of highly personal boundaries certainly does not constitute ethical behavior; thus, by this logic, those who disregard and defile human sexuality should receive an appropriate sentence – one that can justly include death.


Raquel Ronzone is a freshman from Philadelphia, Pa. She can be reached at [email protected].