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Debbie O'Leary
IU School of Law--Bloomington

Last modified: Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Death penalty for rapists: IU legal experts available to speak about Supreme Court case

April 29, 2008

EDITORS: Indiana University School of Law--Bloomington professors are available to discuss the recent U.S. Supreme Court hearing to determine whether child rapists can receive the death penalty. The case, Kennedy v. Louisiana, concerns an appeal by a man who was sentenced to death after being convicted of raping his 8-year-old stepdaughter. The Court heard arguments April 16 and is expected to rule in June. It is the first death penalty case in more than 30 years for a crime other than murder.

Craig Bradley, the Robert A. Lucas Professor of Law, noted that, in the 1977 case of Coker v. Georgia, the Court struck down the death penalty for rape of 'an adult woman,' and, in the same year, Eberheart v. Georgia made it clear that this included rapes in which severe injury was inflicted. "While the Court did not mention the racial subtext of the case," Bradley said, "there was no question that this decision was influenced by the fact that black men in the South were frequently given the death penalty for the rape of white women, but the death penalty was extremely rare for other rapes. There was a further suspicion that many of these 'rapes' were not really rapes at all. But the limitation of Coker's holding to 'adult women' made it clear that the issue of child rape was reserved in that case. That issue is now before us and, with the racial subtext no longer as prominent, and, in any case, not as important as the fact that the victim is a child, it would not be surprising to see the Court allow the death penalty in this situation, especially if physical injury is involved."

Bradley's teaching and research interests include constitutional law and criminal law and procedure. A former clerk for Justice William H. Rehnquist and assistant U.S. Attorney, he has worked extensively with foreign legal systems, including as an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Criminal Law in Germany and a Fulbright Senior Fellow at Australian National University. He also lectured on criminal law and procedure throughout South Africa as a guest of Rand Afrikaans University in Johannesburg. His most recent books include Criminal Procedure: A Worldwide Procedure and The Rehnquist Legacy.

He can be reached at 812-855-1257 or by e-mail at

Jody Madeira

Jody Madeira

Professor Jody Madeira said that, since Coker v. Georgia, the U.S. Supreme Court has reserved the death penalty for those who take human life. "Over time," she said, "the Court has increasingly restricted states' ability to execute members of certain populations, most recently juvenile and mentally retarded offenders. Though child rape is certainly among the most heinous offenses, I believe that capital punishment should continue to be applied only to offenses in which the victim is killed. Executing child rapists may have serious adverse effects. Children are most likely to be sexually assaulted by family members or friends, and extending the death penalty to child rape may encourage family members to attempt to cover up incidents of child rape to spare guilty relatives from execution. In addition, child rapists may feel that they have little to lose by killing their victims to protect their identity if both child rape and murder are capital offenses."

Professor Madeira's research projects center upon the effects of capital proceedings and sentences upon victims' families, the role of empathy in personal injury litigation, and the impact of recent developments in capital victims' services upon the relationship between victims' families and the criminal justice system. Madeira is also a research associate at the Capital Punishment Research Initiative at the School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany, State University of New York.

Her current book project explores the ways in which victims' families and survivors came to comprehend and cope with the Oklahoma City bombing through membership in community groups as well as through attendance and participation in Timothy McVeigh's prosecution and execution.

Madeira can be reached at 812-856-1082 or by e-mail at