Benninghoff Bill Strengthening Penalties Against Sexually Violent Murderers Clears House Judiciary Committee

The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday approved a bill sponsored by Rep. Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre/Mifflin) that would increase the likelihood that previously convicted sex offenders who commit a sexually violent murder would receive the death penalty. 

“This bill is about justice,” Benninghoff said.  “The punishment must fit the crime.  We are not talking about first-time offenders here.  The criminals affected by this bill are those with a history of sexually deviant offenses.” 

Benninghoff’s bill targets people who are registered as a sex offender or sexually violent predator under Megan’s Law.  If such a person committed a sexually violent murder, Benninghoff’s measure would change the sentencing guidelines following the murder conviction. 

The sexually violent murder in combination with the registration under Megan’s Law would be considered an “aggravating circumstance” when sentencing the criminal.   

During sentencing, juries in first-degree murder cases must consider both aggravating circumstances and mitigating circumstances.  Under current law, if at least one aggravating circumstance is present and there are no mitigating circumstances, the sentence must be the death penalty.  If one or more aggravating circumstances are present that outweigh any mitigating circumstances, the murderer must be sentenced to the death penalty.  Under all other scenarios, the murderer would be sentenced to life in prison. 

Some examples of other aggravating circumstances under current law include cases in which the victim was a member of law enforcement or a judge, the killing was done for hire or the victim was tortured. 

“As a former county coroner, I have seen first-hand what the criminal mind is capable of,” Benninghoff said.  “My hope is that this measure will be a deterrent to those who would consider committing this type of crime.  If it prevents even one innocent person from dying in one of these heinous crimes, it will be worth the effort.” 

The bill now heads to the full House for consideration. 

State Representative Kerry Benninghoff
171st District, Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Contact:  Dan Massing

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