House Committee Approves Benninghoff Bill Strengthening Penalties Against Sexually Violent Murderers

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

“We’re talking about some of society’s most dangerous criminals,” Benninghoff said.  “These are people who pose a significant risk to our children and the citizens of Pennsylvania.  The punishment should fit the severity of their crimes.” 

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. 

“I believe we need to send a strong message that Pennsylvania will not tolerate repeat sex offenders committing an additional sexual offense that results in murder,” Benninghoff said.  “Under my bill, these offenders would then be eligible for the death penalty.” 

The bill now heads to the full House for consideration. 

Rep. Kerry Benninghoff
171st District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

(814) 355-1300
(717) 783-1918
Contact:  Dan Massing
House Public Relations
(717) 772-9845

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