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Murder of Megan Kanka

The facts
Jesse Timmendequas was tried for the July 1994 kidnapping, murder and rape of 7-year-old Megan Kanka. The case has given birth to the federal and state laws commonly known as "Megan's Law," in which sex offenders are required to register with local police when they've moved into a neighborhood and local authorities are often required to provide community notification of the sex offender's presence.

Megan Kanka disappeared
On the evening of July 29, 1994, Megan Kanka disappeared from her neighborhood in Hamilton Township, New Jersey. When her mother realized Megan was not in the house, she went to the homes of several neighbors where Megan often played. During her search, Maureen Kanka met Timmendequas, then 33, who lived diagonally across the street from the Kankas. Timmendequas told her that he had seen Megan earlier that evening while he was working on his car.

The Kankas called police hours later when Megan had not been found. Police conducted a door-to-door search of the neighborhood. They began to focus their attention on Timmendequas's house because they learned that another resident, Joseph Cifelli, was a convicted sex offender. Another resident of the house, Brian Jenin, was also a paroled sex offender. The three men had met at New Jersey's Avenel Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center for sexual offenders.

During the door-to-door search, police said that Timmendequas appeared extremely nervous. He agreed to accompany the police to headquarters for questioning, saying that he would help police in any way he could.

After 24 hours of continued searches had failed to locate Megan, Timmendequas allegedly confessed and led police to Megan's body. Megan was found dumped in some weeds at a nearby county park.

Prosecutors alleged that Timmendequas lured Megan into his home by telling her she could see his puppy dog. The state contended that Timmendequas raped Megan and strangled her after placing two plastic bags over her head. Timmendequas gratuitously killed Megan, according to the state, to prevent her from being a witness to the assault.

The prosecution said that Timmendequas carried Megan's body out of the house in a toy box and dumped it in the county park. He then allegedly tried to cover up the crime by using ammonia to wash down his steps, the toy box and his truck.

Jesse Timmendequas
The Defendant
Timmendequas has two prior sex convictions. In 1979, Timmendequas pled guilty to attempted aggravated sexual assault in connection with the attack of a 5-year-old girl in Piscataway, New Jersey. He was given a suspended sentence on the condition that he go obtain counseling. Court records showed that Timmendequas did not live up to those terms, and he served nine months in Middlesex Adult Correctional Center.

In 1981, Timmendequas was arrested in another incident involving the assault of a 7-year-old girl. He eventually pled guilty to attempted sexual contact and to attempting to cause serious bodily injury in connection with the assault. Timmendequas spent six years at Avenel. When released, he moved into the Hamilton Township house, owned by roommate Joseph Cifelli's mother, where he allegedly murdered Megan.

Megan's Law

After the murder of their daughter, the Kankas began spearheading a campaign to enact legislation, modeled after similar laws in Oregon, providing for police registration and community notification when sex offenders are released into a particular neighborhood.

The New Jersey law identifies convicted sex offenders according to "risk." If the offender is "low risk," only police must be notified of where that person lives. If the offender is deemed a "medium risk," then schools and day care centers must be notified of that person's presence in the community. If the offender is deemed "high risk," anyone the offender is likely to encounter must be notified.

In New Jersey, "risk" is determined by considering the number of offenses, whether a weapon was used, age of the victim, whether the offender had therapy and if so, whether therapy had succeeded.

The New Jersey state Supreme Court upheld Megan's Law in 1995. Challenges to the law at the federal level have been mixed. In April 1996, the U.S. Third Circuit of Appeals upheld the registration aspect of the law, but declined to decide whether the notification or classification procedures were constitutional or not, because the case had a sparse factual record.

In another 1996 case, a U.S. District Court in New Jersey ruled that community notification for sex offenders who have served their sentences violates constitutional guarantees against ex post facto punishment.

Federal Law

The Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children Law was passed in May, 1996. The law was the first part of the federal version of "Megan's Law." On Sept. 13, 1996, the "Megan's Law" notification part of the legislation was passed. It gives states until Sept. 1997 to pass versions of "Megan's Law" or lose federal aid.

At least 47 states plus the District of Columbia have already passed legislation that requires registration of convicted sex offenders and some form of notification. Under the federal law it is up to the states to decide the risk level of an offender and what kind of community notification should be used.

Under judge's orders, Court TV was allowed to tape opening statements, closing statements and the verdict in the trial.


On May 30, 1997, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on all counts of murder including capital murder, kidnapping and aggravated sexual assault.

Timmendequas faces the death penalty or a minimum of 30 years in prison. The arguments during the penalty phase are tentatively set to begin on June 9, 1997.

The defense is expected to present evidence that Timmendequas was physically and sexually abused as a child and has suffered psychological damage as a result.

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