April 18, 2007
Senate deal would allow execution for child predators
The Associated Press
AUSTIN - Backers of a Senate bill to toughen punishment for child-sex
offenders said they've reached a deal that would permit the death penalty
for offenders who repeatedly prey on children.
The compromise bill, which was distributed to Senate members on Tuesday,
would allow the death penalty only for those twice convicted of raping a
child 13 or younger. It also boosts mandatory minimum sentences for a
variety of sex crimes against children.
"The goals here were pretty simple: protect children, send a message to
child predators. Texas is not going to tolerate these kinds of heinous
crimes," said Rich Parsons, a spokesman for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, a
leader of the charge for tougher penalties for child molesters.
The House passed its version of the bill, dubbed Jessica's Law, last month.
It carries a minimum of 25 years to life in prison on a first conviction and
possibly the death penalty for a second offense.
The law is named after Jessica Lunsford, a Florida girl who was abducted and
killed. More than a dozen states have passed versions of Jessica's Law to
crack down on sex offenders and Gov. Rick Perry has deemed passage of a
child sex offender bill a legislative emergency.
Staffers of Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, the bill's sponsor, said the
Senate could take up the compromise bill as soon as Thursday.
"The only thing we impose the death penalty for is two (penetration)
aggravated sexual assaults of a child," Deuell said.
"There's a trigger in there that if the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the
death penalty for nonmurder is unconstitutional, then everything will revert
back to life without parole."
The compromise tones down sex-offender penalties initially supported by
Dewhurst and Deuell. The original bill called for mandatory minimum sentence
of 25 years for a wide variety of sex crimes against children. A second
offense for any of those could have resulted in the death penalty.
The compromise bill requires 25-year mandatory sentences only for first
convictions of rape of a young child. It also requires many convicted
predators to serve 75 percent of their sentences.
The proposal increases sexual assault of a child from a second- to
first-degree felony, pushing minimum sentencing from two to 10 years. A
second conviction could bring life without parole.
The bill also increases punishment indecency with a child and for possession
of large amounts of child pornography.
Defense lawyers weren't part of most of the compromise negotiations, said
David Gonzalez, of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.
He criticized the mandatory minimum sentencing and said it's
unconstitutional to sentence the death penalty for nonmurder offenses.
Source : Associated Press