Closing arguments begin in "Megan's Law" trial
May 28, 1997
TRENTON, New Jersey (CNN) -- Closing arguments began Wednesday in the trial of the man accused of killing Megan Kanka, whose death gave birth to a nationwide movement to crack down on sexual predators.
The lawyer for Jesse Timmendequas, a twice-convicted sex offender, told jurors that her client did not initiate the encounter with 7-year-old Megan.
Prosecutors accuse Timmendequas, 36, of luring Megan into his house in July 1994 to see a puppy, then raping her and strangling her with a belt. Her partially nude body was found a day later in a park.
Defense attorney Barbara Lependorf scoffed at the prosecution's claim. She said Timmendequas was tending to a boat in front of his house, across the street from Megan's, and that it was Megan who asked Timmendequas if she could see the puppy.
"Jesse didn't suggest it. He was minding his own business," Lependorf said.
Lawyer raises questions about confessions
She then criticized authorities for two confessions they obtained -- a handwritten statement by Timmendequas and a transcription of an interview with the defendant by police.
Lependorf questioned why the latter confession was not audiotaped or videotaped for accuracy and highlighted different expressions and wording in the answers. She also wondered how a two-hour police interview yielded a 1 1/2-page transcript, compared to Timmendequas' own eight-page statement.
Possible death sentence
Lependorf spent nearly three hours articulating what she called grounds for reasonable doubt in the case against Timmendequas.
Prosecutors were to deliver closing arguments later Wednesday. The jury is expected to get the case Thursday. If convicted of murder, Timmendequas could face the death penalty.
However, the jury can also consider a reduced charge of aggravated manslaughter. That carries a minimum of 10 years in prison.
The prosecution took 14 days to present its case and called 18 witnesses. The court-appointed defense lawyers did not call any witnesses and Timmendequas did not testify.
Murder sparks legislation
In the aftermath of the murder, neighbors were outraged to learn Timmendequas had two previous sex convictions and that they were never informed. He had been convicted in a 1981 attack on a 5-year-old child and an attempted sexual assault on a 7-year-old child.
Megan's mother campaigned for laws to require that neighbors be notified when sex criminals move into an area after they have served their time in prison.
Versions of "Megan's Law" were passed in New Jersey and other states. In all 50 states, a paroled sex offender must register his residency with local authorities, and all but five states require some form of notification when a convicted sex offender moves in.
President Clinton signed a federal "Megan's Law" bill last year, but the law has been challenged in state and federal courts.
Prosecutors were barred from mentioning Timmendequas' previous record at trial, but jurors heard references to it in statements Timmendequas made to police about getting "those feelings" for little girls again.
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