Senate endorses higher sentence for child rape

Thursday, February 12, 2009 | 9:11 a.m. CST; updated 12:03 p.m. CST, Thursday, February 12, 2009

JEFFERSON CITY — The Senate gave first-round approval Wednesday to a bill that would increase penalties for those who rape or commit other sex crimes against children.

The bill provides prosecutors the option of seeking life without parole for those who rape or sodomize a child younger than 12 when the offense is "outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman, in that it involved torture or depravity of mind."

Sponsoring Sen. Jack Goodman said the punishment would be available for a crime that "shocks the sensibilities of an ordinary person." He said the bill would not apply in less serious crimes such as molestation or statutory rape.

Senators gave initial approval to the bill Wednesday on a voice vote. They must still vote once more before sending the bill to the House.

Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to strike down a Louisiana law providing for the death penalty in child rape cases, citing evolving standards of decency.

Goodman, R-Mount Vernon, filed a bill while that case was pending that would have given Missouri the option of the death penalty for child rapists. It did not pass last year.

"I would say the court had a different view of evolving standards of decency than the people we serve," Goodman said.

Goodman said he wants to offer the maximum punishment that passes constitutional muster.

During debate, most senators who spoke agreed with the bill's goal.

"I think this is a good piece of legislation," said Sen. Rita Heard Days, D-St. Louis. "We're trying to put people away for the rest of their natural lives for a very onerous and ugly crime."

Another provision would prohibit the use of a 120-day "shock incarceration program" for those who commit felony sex crimes against children younger than 17.

That provision was introduced by Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau. He said the possibility of parole after three months should not be available for those criminals.

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