Kenneth Glenn Hinson, 47, had no children but seemed to treat his neighbors' kids as if they were his own. He would pile them into his pickup truck for weekend outings at Johnson Lake and roast marshmallows with them during sleepovers at his home.
"My kids stayed down there, camped down there with him and cooked down there with him," said Donna McGee, who knew Hinson for four years. "Nobody ever suspected anything."
They didn't know that Hinson had spent nine years in prison for raping a 12-year-old girl in 1991. Or that 15 years later, he would be charged with another crime so outrageous that South Carolina lawmakers would test the constitutional limits of the death penalty by proposing the execution of repeat child rapists.
Two 17-year-old girls fled Hinson's property last month, saying he had taken them from a home, bound their mouths and wrists with duct tape and raped them in a shallow dungeon under a trapdoor in his tool shed. Hinson was captured March 17 after a four-day manhunt.
State senate approves change in law
A week after Hinson's arrest, South Carolina's Senate voted 38-4 to allow the death penalty for sex offenders convicted a second time of raping children younger than 11. Oklahoma lawmakers are considering a similar bill.
Gov. Mark Sanford and South Carolina's attorney general, both Republicans, have endorsed the death penalty for child rapists. A state House committee has yet to take up the measure.
Like most of the 38 states allowing capital punishment, South Carolina and Oklahoma reserve the death penalty for murderers.
Only three states -- Louisiana, Florida and Montana -- have laws allowing the death penalty for sex crimes, and no such executions have been carried out since the U.S. Supreme Court let capital punishment resume 30 years ago.
"There are a lot of people who would argue a rape of a child is tantamount to taking their life, because you deprive them of their childhood," said Jay Hodge, the prosecutor in Hinson's case. But "as a practical matter, I don't feel comfortable that the U.S. Supreme Court would go along with it."
The Supreme Court in 1977 overturned the death sentence of a Georgia man condemned for raping an adult woman. It declared that execution "is an excessive penalty for the rapist who, as such, does not take human life."
One rapist on death row
The U.S. has one inmate on death row for a rape that did not result in murder: Patrick O'Neal Kennedy of Louisiana, convicted in 2003 of raping an 8-year-old girl.
The Louisiana Supreme Court upheld the state's death penalty for child rapists four years before Kennedy's conviction. It said the U.S. Supreme Court ruled only on executions for rapists of adults, not children.
Appeals of Kennedy's death sentence could force a new showdown in the nation's high court.
"Anything less than the taking of a life could never justify an execution -- that's how most people read the Supreme Court decision," said Kay L. Levine, a law professor at Emory University in Atlanta.
Rick Hoefer, Hinson's court-appointed attorney, declined to comment on the death penalty proposal or the case against his client. "I can't imagine any good coming out of trying this case beforehand in the press," he said Tuesday.
On Hinson's four-acre property -- littered with discarded tires, broken furniture and bulging trash bags -- the alleged dungeon sits beneath a rickety shed. Investigators say he camouflaged its trapdoor with a concrete block.
It was a chilly, crypt-like space, just 41/2 feet deep and roughly the length and width of a midsize car, with the floor and walls lined with two-by-fours. A single 75-watt bulb illuminated the space.
"It reminds me of something out of a movie -- a real bad horror movie," said Hinson's niece Renee Faile, who turned him in during the manhunt after he came to her backyard asking for a glass of water and a cigarette.
South Carolina's proposed death penalty change would not affect Hinson -- the alleged victims are too old, and the law could not be applied retroactively.
I'd love to see the death penalty for these "things". I disagree with the Supreme Court, because in sense they really do take the life of that child/adult in their sick acts. They are scarred forever. Then the "thing" gets to sit in prison waiting for their time to run out so they can go back out and do the same thing over? It's a bad cycle in our justice system that need an end to it. You kill them, and the cycle stops. It really is that simple.
Edited by __Kratos__, 21 April 2006 - 09:38 AM.