On the morning of March 2, 1998, Patrick Kennedy called 911 to report the rape of his eight-year-old stepdaughter. The reader will pardon the unspeakable, nightmarish details of the brutal assault described in the following quotation from the legal documents:
When police arrived at [Kennedy’s] home between 9:20 and 9:30 a.m., they found [the girl] on her bed, wearing a T-shirt and wrapped in a bloody blanket. She was bleeding profusely from the vaginal area…. [She] was transported to the Children’s Hospital. An expert in pediatric forensic medicine testified that [the girl’s] injuries were the most severe he had seen from a sexual assault in his four years of practice. A laceration to the left wall of the vagina had separated her cervix from the back of her vagina, causing her rectum to protrude into the vaginal structure. Her entire perineum was torn from the posterior fourchette to the anus. The injuries required emergency surgery (Kennedy v. Louisiana, 2008, bracketed items added).
So detestable was this crime that the U.S. Supreme Court conceded: “Petitioner’s crime was one that cannot be recounted in these pages in a way sufficient to capture in full the hurt and horror inflicted on his victim or to convey the revulsion society, and the jury that represents it, sought to express by sentencing petitioner to death” (Kennedy v…).
After further investigation, Kennedy was charged with the aggravated rape of his stepdaughter. Louisiana law allowed the district attorney to seek the death penalty for defendants found guilty of raping children under the age of 12. The jury unanimously determined that Kennedy should be sentenced to death. Kennedy appealed the sentence—all the way to the highest court in the state. But the Louisiana Supreme Court reaffirmed the imposition of the death sentence (Liptak, 2007). Kennedy again appealed—all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 5-to-4 decision (split down ideological lines—liberal vs. conservative), the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Louisiana Court’s decision, commuting Kennedy’s death sentence. The Court held that it is unconstitutional for states to impose the death penalty for the rape of a child where the assault did not result in the child’s death….
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