The Florida Supreme Court yesterday declared the death penalty for child rape unconstitutional and ordered a new trial for one of two men on Death Row convicted of that crime.
The justices ruled unanimously that the death sentence for sexual assault on a child age 11 or younger was excessive, qualifying as cruel and unusual punishment banned by the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Last year the high court barred Florida's death penalty for rape of an adult on the same grounds.
The justices also voted 4 to 3 that Daniel L. Coler should get a new trial because he was convicted of child rape in part on irrelevant and unfairly prejudicial testimony at his 1978 trial.
Coler, 43, of Fernandina Beach, is one of two men sentenced to death for child rape. The other is Lucious Lee Andrews, 31, of Tallahassee, sentenced to die last May for sexually assaulting his 8-year-old cousin. His case is pending before the Florida Supreme Court.
They had been the only people in the country awaiting a death sentence for a crime other than murder, according to the Florida Clearinghouse on Criminal Justice, an anti-death penalty group.
Coler was convicted of three counts of rape and one count of sexual assault in a series of attacks on his daughter, starting in 1972 when she was 6.