Tennessee bill authorizing use of death penalty for child rapists moves 1 step closer to becoming law

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A Tennessee bill that would authorize the death penalty as punishment for the rape of a child has moved forward following a heated debate during the Tennessee Senate Judiciary committee meeting on Tuesday. 

Senate Bill 1834 (SB1834), sponsored by Republican Sen. Jack Johnson, would allow the death penalty as a punishment for “rape of a child, aggravated rape of a child, or especially aggravated rape of a child.”

The bill was presented to the committee by Republican Sen. Ken Yager, However, committee members brought two amendments forward on the bill, neither of which passed. 

During the meeting, Democratic Sen. London Lamar, who was pushing for an amendment, claimed that placing the death penalty on child rapists was “a lot of pressure” to put on the victims.

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The Senate Judiciary Committee has moved a bill forward that will allow the death penalty in cases of child rape in Tennessee.  (Tennessee General Assembly)

“It’s already a sensitive subject for a child to come forth to make it be known that they have been violated and knowing that the person they are accusing is going to die,” Lamar said. 

“I would consider this friendly. It doesn’t disrupt the bill or anything. It’s just simply asking to give mental health counseling to the child throughout the process. Simple, shouldn’t be very controversial,” Lamar explained in her reasoning for the amendment. 

Yager countered Lamar, saying he could “not disagree more” and that he considered the amendment to be unfriendly and a disruption to the bill. 

“The mental health of the child is damaged at the time of the rape, not during the trial. At the time of the horrendous act of being raped, usually by someone they may know, that’s where the problem occurs,” Yager emotionally stated. 

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Penitentiary

Photo shows the gurney in the execution chamber at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Okla. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

Lamar goes on to explain that she feels this could prevent children from wanting to speak up.

“That is a lot of pressure we are putting on children. In order for them to speak up about the violations they experienced, they know, in response, that somebody is going to die,” Lamar said. 

After lengthy testimony from the District Attorney’s office, several lawyers and child advocates, Lamar made a motion to send the bill to summer study to allow for more research and greater consideration of the information that was presented.

During the testimony, District Attorney General Stephen Crump fired back at Lamar, who still insisted that passing the bill would harm the victims. 

“It is our position that the child victim would not be the one putting them to death. If anyone put them to death, it would be the rapist who asked for it,” Crump said. 

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online predator

Texas authorities said 28 people were arrested, and 19 children rescued after an operation targeting the distribution of child sexual abuse material online. (Arne Dedert/picture alliance via Getty Images)

“I will push back against that. While the perpetrator deserves to be held accountable to the full extent of the law, should probably be sitting in prison for life, I do see a situation where you are going to force children to kill people, who may not come forth now because they know that someone they love was close to them will die,” Lamar said. 

Ultimately, the committee voted against sending the bill to summer study and went on to vote on the bill itself.

In final statements, both Republican Sen. Kerry Roberts and Chairman Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga-District 10) noted that a vote against the bill did not mean a member was opposed to the death penalty for cases of rape but instead, that they were opposed to the bill itself as written.

Roberts insisted that he was all in favor of issuing the death penalty as a punishment for those charges, but he could not support it because too many of those cases were based on circumstantial evidence.

The bill passed with five in favor and four opposed. Voting against the bill were Gardenhire, Lamar, Roberts and Senator Sara Kyle (D-Memphis-District 30).

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The bill has now been referred to the Senate Calendar Committee.

Tennessee is one of 27 states that allows capital punishment, and currently does not allow capital punishment for non-homicide crimes. Only seven other states allow the death penalty for certain child rape offenses.

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