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COLUMBUS Bills would toughen child-rape penalties



Published: Fri, February 1, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



A Senate bill would provide no parole eligibility if a child rapist used a weapon during the crime.

By MICHELE C. HLADIK

VINDICATOR CORRESPONDENT

COLUMBUS -- Raping a child would soon automatically send a person to prison for life if state lawmakers and Ohio prosecutors succeed in passing legislation aimed at stiffening penalties for the crime.

The attack on the issue is coming from both the Ohio Senate and the Ohio House of Representatives and both sides of the political aisle.

Two pieces of legislation have been introduced that would remove a prosecutor's need to prove force was used in the rape of a child.

"It's common sense," said state Rep. John Widowfield, R-Cuyahoga Falls, a sponsor of one of the bills. "How can you rape a 2-year-old and not use force? Prosecutors believe the element of force is already implied in the rape of a child."

Ohio law now requires prosecutors to prove force was used in the rape of a child in order for the assailant to get a life sentence, but recently introduced legislation would remove that requirement making it easier to seek a life sentence for the crime.

Easier for prosecutors: Widowfield's legislation, House Bill 485, would remove the requirement for prosecutors to prove force when a child 10 years old or younger is raped.

This would allow prosecutors to seek a life sentence rather than the available sentence of three to 10 years when force can't be proved.

"These perpetrators who commit these acts have the highest rate of recidivism," Widowfield said. "We want to put these people away for a long time."

Widowfield said the bill already has a number of supporters, including Lt. Gov. Maureen O'Connor, the Ohio Prosecuting Attorney Association, Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery, the Summit County Sheriff's Office, the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police and 36 House members including state Rep. Ann Womer Benjamin, R-Aurora. Womer Benjamin chairs the House Criminal Justice Committee, which is having hearings on the bill.

Widowfield said several Summit County judges are expected to testify for the bill at its next hearing.

Senate measure: Senate Bill 225, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Leigh Herington, D-Rootstown, would remove the proof-of-force requirements and make it easier for prosecutors to seek a life sentence.

The Senate bill goes one step further and allows prosecutors to seek a sentence of life with no possibility of parole if certain factors are proved.

Those factors include previous offenses, the use of threats or serious physical harm to the child or family members, or the threat of a deadly weapon during the crime.

Herington said he also has support from both Democrats and Republicans on his bill and he would be willing to work with Widowfield on the legislation and make the sentence tougher.

Widowfield said that there will be many chances to make changes to his bill as it finds works its way through the legislative process and that he is willing to work with anyone on improving it.




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