Proponents of an Oklahoma statute that allows the death penalty for repeated sex offenses against children expressed disappointment Wednesday with a U.S. Supreme Court decision that bans such laws.

In a 5-4 vote, the nation’s highest court ruled the Louisiana law allowing the death penalty to be imposed in such cases violates the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.


Proponents of an Oklahoma statute that allows the death penalty for repeated sex offenses against children expressed disappointment Wednesday with a U.S. Supreme Court decision that bans such laws.
In a 5-4 vote, the nation’s highest court ruled the Louisiana law allowing the death penalty to be imposed in such cases violates the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
The ruling upset state Sen. Jonathan Nichols, a former prosecutor who wrote the Oklahoma law that would have allowed the death penalty for anyone convicted two or more times of rape, sodomy or lewd molestation involving a child under 14.
“This is a heartless decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that guts Oklahoma’s efforts to protect children from violent predators,” said Nichols, R-Norman. “These Supreme Court justices have either completely subordinated children into the category of subhuman, or their morals are so vacant that all citizens should question their competency to uphold our Constitution which is founded on justice.”
Oklahoma is one of only four other states that had approved the death penalty for certain sex crimes against children, joining Montana, South Carolina and Texas. The law passed overwhelmingly in both the Oklahoma House and Senate in 2006 and was signed into law by Gov. Brad Henry.
In the Louisiana case, 43-year-old Patrick Kennedy was sentenced to death for the rape of an 8-year-old girl. He is one of two people in the United States, both in Louisiana, who have been condemned to death for a rape that was not also accompanied by a killing.
There has not been an execution in the United States for a crime that did not also involve the death of the victim in 44 years.
Jim Rowan, a veteran defense attorney who has tried more than 40 death penalty cases in Oklahoma, said he was pleased with the court’s ruling. Rowan, who also serves as chairman of the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said because sex offenses against children are so disturbing, many jurors would be quick to impose the death penalty.
“It’s a revolting, despicable, horrible crime, and all civilized people have an emotional, visceral reaction to it,” Rowan said, “and that emotional response should not be allowed to carry the day when we’re trying to put rational parameters on the death penalty.
“Even though the crime is heinous and horrible, the death penalty is just not appropriate for child rape.”
Proponents of the death penalty for child rapists said they plan to closely examine the court’s ruling to see if Oklahoma’s statute might be rewritten, but Rowan said he’s confident the ruling makes the Oklahoma law invalid.
“Outside of Louisiana, of the four states that allow capital murder for rape, those statutes are all unconstitutional,” Rowan said. “The only difference between the Oklahoma statute and the Louisiana statute is that Oklahoma requires a prior sexual offense, but that’s a distinction without a difference.
“Under the sweeping ruling in the Kennedy case, all non-murder cases are unconstitutional.”
In the court’s majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy concluded that in cases of crimes against individuals — as opposed to treason, for example — “the death penalty should not be expanded to instances where the victim’s life was not taken.”
No Oklahoma prosecutor has sought the death penalty in a child sexual assault case since the new law took effect, but Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn said he was considering it in a case involving the brutal rape of a 4-year-old girl.
“If there’s ever a non-murder case that deserves it, this is it,” Mashburn said. “But this decision is certainly going to keep me from trying that.”