Repeat sex offender guilty in 'Megan's Law' case
May 30, 1997
TRENTON, New Jersey (CNN) -- A New Jersey jury found Jesse Timmendequas guilty Friday of sexual assault and murder for the 1994 slaying of 7-year-old Megan Kanka, whose death led to a nationwide movement to protect children from sexual predators.
The jury ruled that Timmendequas, a twice-convicted sex offender, killed Megan "by his own conduct, purposely or knowingly" -- making him eligible for the death penalty.
Timmendequas, 36, also was found guilty of kidnapping, four counts of aggravated sexual assault and two felony murder counts for killing the girl in the course of other crimes.
The jury reached its decision after less than five hours of deliberation. Sentencing was tentatively set for June 9.
As the verdict was read, the defendant sat expressionless. Megan's mother, Maureen, gasped when she heard the first guilty verdict and her eyes filled with tears. Her husband, Richard, looked off to one side, fighting back tears.
Megan's parents left the courtroom without speaking to reporters.
Prosecutors said that on July 29, 1994, Timmendequas lured Megan into his house across the street from hers to see a puppy, then raped her and strangled her with a belt. A day later, he led police to the body in a nearby park.
Lawmaker advocates death penalty
Shortly after Friday's verdict, Rep. Dick Zimmer, R-New Jersey, stood outside the courtroom and praised the jury's decision.
"I believe he is exactly the kind of predator that the legislature had in mind when it enacted the death penalty," said Zimmer, who played a key role in drafting "Megan's Law" legislation in Congress.
Zimmer, who has befriended the family, said the Kankas were "emotional, but very happy" about the verdict.
President Clinton issued a statement saying the Kankas "took their pain and helped guide the nation to adopt legislation that is going to protect other children from those who would harm them.
"We owe the Kanka family not only our sympathy but a debt of gratitude as well," Clinton said.
New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman said she, too, was pleased with the verdict, and would have no problem carrying out the death penalty if that's what the jury calls for.
John Furlong, an attorney who challenged Megan's Law on behalf of a sex offender, said he was "not happy with any verdict that makes a person eligible to be executed by the state."
'A pathetically sick man ...'
"I don't think we're serving any purpose by executing a pathetically sick man who needs a structured setting for a long, long time," Furlong said.
After the murder, the Kanka family's neighbors were outraged, because they were never informed that Timmendequas had two previous sex convictions. He was 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.
Throughout the trial, the jury heard graphic testimony and detailed forensic evidence linking Timmendequas to Megan's slaying.
Physical evidence included blood stains, hair and fiber samples and the victim's torn clothing, found in the trash outside Timmendequas' home. A forensic dentist said a bite mark on Timmendequas' hand matched Megan's teeth.
Tears on the witness stand from Megan's mother and a police detective, and the prosecution's dramatic closing statement, prompted defense motions for a mistrial that were denied by Judge Andrew J. Smithson.
Faces minimum of 30 years
The court-appointed defense attorneys called no witnesses, and Timmendequas did not testify.
The defense maintained its client was a vulnerable man who was coerced by police into confessing to the crime. The defense suggested Timmendequas' roommates -- also convicted sex offenders -- were involved in the slaying.
Defense attorneys said they would present testimony in the penalty phase that Timmendequas was sexually abused by his father; that he saw his father rape a neighborhood girl and abuse his brother and sister; and that he grew up surrounded by violence and substance abuse.
The same jurors will return for the penalty phase of the trial to determine whether to impose a sentence of death by lethal injection.
If the jury cannot agree unanimously on a death sentence, Timmendequas will face 30 years to life in prison for murder. The felony murder charges also carry a minimum of 30-year terms.
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