06/15/06 — N.C. not planning tougher sex offense penalties

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N.C. not planning tougher sex offense penalties

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on June 15, 2006 1:49 PM

A movement in some states to make repeat sex offenders eligible for the death penalty has not caught on in North Carolina.

State Rep. Louis Pate of Mount Olive said he was not aware of any bill that has been introduced that would result in a death sentence for a repeat child molester. Pate said a death sentence for a sex offense might be challenged in the courts as cruel and unusual punishment.

The chairman of the House Justice and Public Safety Committee, Rep. Phil Haire of Sylva, said he did not know of any pending legislation that would call for the death penalty for a convicted sex offender. He said the current "short" legislative session deals only with money issues.

At least five states have passed legislation making death an appropriate punishment for someone convicted of a second sex crime against a child.

Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry signed a law that expands the death penalty in that state. Anyone convicted twice of rape, sodomy or lewd molestation of a child under the age of 14 could face the death penalty.

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford has signed a bill into law making a second rape of a child younger than 11 a capital offense.

Florida, Montana and Louisiana have passed similar laws.

Sex offenses against children is a growing national problem. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that there are at least 4 million child molesters in the country, and a typical molester will abuse 30 to 60 children before being arrested, according to a Web site.

Wayne County District Attorney Branny Vickory, who was attending the state district attorneys' conference in Wilmington, said he had not heard about the new laws in other states.

But he added, "You never know what might pop out of these legislative meetings."

Another Wayne County official called the new laws nothing more than election-year politics. Sheriff Carey Winders said the new death-penalty laws sound good in public, but he was not sure such a bill could be passed in North Carolina.

Goldsboro police Chief Tim Bell declined comment about what other states had done, but he added that "it would be interesting to see what the Supreme Court would do" if it gets such a case.

A critic of the new laws, David Brock, a law professor at Washington and Lee University in Virginia, told the Associated Press that the laws might put a child rape victim's life more at risk.

"The last message you want to give an offender who has the life of a child in his hands is you might as well kill the child because he's already got the death penalty," Brock said.

Barbara Bergman, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said Supreme Court decisions have made it clear that the death penalty is reserved for those who have taken another life.

No one convicted of a sex offense has been executed since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty 30 years ago. But one inmate is on death row in Louisiana after his 2003 conviction for raping an 8-year-old girl.

Sheriff Winders did say tougher changes are being considered for the sex offender registry in the state.

"They are working on different aspects of it, but it won't be finalized until later," he said. "I can't tell you the specifics of it, but capital punishment is not one of them."

Haire said the bill would include special monitoring of the 100 worst convicted sex offenders -- even after they complete their sentences and probations. He said these offenders would have to wear an ankle bracelet, much like those now on electronic house arrest, for the rest of their lives.

But Haire admitted, "There is some question about the legality of it."

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.