BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: The Supreme Court ruled this week that all 270 foreign terrorism suspects at Guantanamo have the right under the U.S. Constitution to challenge their detention in federal court. Another High Court decision excepted soon could expand the death penalty. Right now, 36 states permit capital punishment for murder. Should that penalty be extended to those who rape children? Criminologists say people are punished to prevent them from committing another crime, as a deterrent to others, to rehabilitate them and as retribution -- revenge. Does revenge for child rape justify execution? Tim O'Brien begins his report from New Orleans, and his story contains some material that may be disturbing.
VOICE OF FEMALE ANCHOR (ABC 26 News 1998 file footage): Today, safety shattered in a quiet neighborhood. A child raped. The teens who did it: on the run.
VOICE OF MALE ANCHOR (ABC 26 News 1998 file footage): An eight-year-old Girl Scout raped in her Harvey neighborhood is recovering from surgery tonight.
VOICE OF MALE REPORTER (ABC 26 News 1998 file footage): People who live in the Woodmere subdivision are hoping for peace of mind. The thought -- a rapist is on the loose...
TIM O'BRIEN: The brutal rape of a small child galvanized this normally tranquil community just outside New Orleans and horrified the neighbors.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: There's got to be some maniac running around out here.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I wouldn't have never thought that someone would live on my street and do something like this. Sheriff
HARRY LEE (Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, during 1998 press conference): I'm in my 18th year as sheriff and I've seen a lot of bad things happen, and this is probably the worst.
O'BRIEN: So bad that Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee put up $5,000 of his own money for information leading to an arrest. In addition to the psychological trauma, the eight-year old girl also suffered severe physical injuries. The city of New Orleans rallied to help, including the New Orleans Saints football team, which launched a fundraising drive to help defray the child's mounting medical expenses.
KAREN TOWNSEND (Reporter, ABC News 26, from 1998 file footage): Sheriff Lee says the prime suspects in this case are two black teens.
O'BRIEN: The manhunt became so intense sheriff's deputies began stopping all young black males in the neighborhood.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: They made me take my shirt off, and, you know, it's cold out here, you know?
VOICE OF FEMALE REPORTER: What were they looking for?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Just tattoos, any little marks.
O'BRIEN: The victim had told police her attackers were two black teenagers. But the story fell apart, and suspicion began to shift to the child's stepfather, Patrick Kennedy, who had called co-workers on the morning of the rape seeking advice on how to remove blood from a white carpet. It turned out Kennedy also had been accused, although never convicted, of sexually molesting four foster children in his care. They were removed. His eight-year-old stepdaughter eventually said that it was Kennedy -- six-feet-four, 375 pounds -- who had raped her and then told her to blame it on the teenagers.
CHILD VICTIM : First, he told me that he was going to make up a story and I better say it. O'BRIEN: And, she said, it wasn't the first time Kennedy had sexually molested her.
FEMALE INTERVIEWER: Did Patrick Kennedy do something to you just that one day, or did he did he do anything any other times?
CHILD VICTIM : He did more than once. I think five (holds up five fingers).
PROSECUTOR : More than once? You think five?
CHILD VICTIM : Um-hmmm.
PROSECUTOR : Okay. Do you remember how old you were the very first time he did something?
CHILD VICTIM : (shakes her head "no")
O'BRIEN: Three years earlier the Louisiana legislature overwhelmingly passed a law authorizing the death penalty for anyone who rapes a child under the age of 12. The jury agreed unanimously: Patrick Kennedy deserved nothing less. The law was introduced by then state representative Pete Schneider (to Rep. Pete Schneider): Is this the kind of guy you had in mind when you passed this law? Representative
PETE SCHNEIDER (Former Louisiana State Representative): Absolutely. Someone who would brutally rape a child -- and rape is wrong no matter whom it is done to, but in a situation like this I believe the death penalty is the appropriate punishment for the crime.
O'BRIEN: Kennedy's court appointed lawyers disagree and have taken their case to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing if the death penalty for rape isn't cruel, it certainly is unusual, violating the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
BILLY SOTHERN (Capital Appeals Project): Mr. Kennedy is one of only two men on death row in the state of Louisiana for the crime of child rape. Indeed, Mr. Kennedy and this other individual are the only two men in the United States for the crime of child rape who've been sentenced to death.
O'BRIEN: The U.S. Supreme Court, more than 30-years ago, found the death penalty unconstitutional for rape -- that death is disproportionate to the crime.
Read it all here.