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  TIMMENDEQUAS Jesse 1961/04/15 USA ... ... ... 1
aka Megan´s Law
The New Jersey Supreme Court on Thursday affirmed for the 2nd time the death sentence imposed on the man who raped and strangled Megan Kanka. The court, in a 4-1 ruling, said the death sentence for Jesse Timmendequas was fair when compared with penalties in other cases. Timmendequas was convicted of killing the 7-year-old girl in Hamilton Township in 1994. The fact Timmendequas had been convicted of other attacks against children triggered a movement to enact Megan's laws in New Jersey and across the nation. The laws require police to track sex offenders and to warn neighbors in some cases when they move in. The Supreme Court in a split ruling 2 years ago upheld Timmendequas' conviction and verdict on his 1st appeal. The 2nd appeal decided Thursday concerned a test as to whether the death penalty was fair and proportionate for Timmendequas when compared with other death-penalty cases. Timmendequas, 39, can now pursue a final state appeal based on other factors, such as new evidence or proof the defense attorneys at his 1996 trial made significant mistakes. The lone dissenter Thursday was Justice Virginia Long, who said Timmendequas' sentence should be reversed because it is impossible to compare one murder to another as a test of fairness. She further called for a general moratorium on the death penalty in New Jersey until a more fair system can be enacted. Long was appointed in September 1999. She replaced Justice Alan Handler, who for decades consistently opposed the death penalty and dissented on every case, including the 1st Timmendequas appeal. Justice James Zazzali, writing for the 4-vote majority, said, "Application of the relevant tests to the circumstances of this case demonstrates that the death penalty imposed on Jesse Timmendequas for the sexual-assault murder of Megan Kanka was not aberrational." The court compared the Timmendequas case with the cases of 14 convicted killers, including 2 who were sent to death row. Of the cases not involving a death sentence, the review included Rasheed Muhammad, convicted of killing an 8-year-old girl in Newark in 1995. Prosecutors sought death but Muhammad got life in prison when jurors could not agree unanimously. The comparison in the cases was quite detailed. For instance, Zazzali explained that while death-row inmate David Cooper used ice cream to lure a 6-year-old girl to her death in Asbury Park in 1993, Timmendequas used a puppy to lure his victim. And that while Timmendequas hid his victim's body in a park miles away and lied to police, Muhammad made less of an effort to conceal his crime and did not lie. Zazzali concluded the death penalty was applicable to Timmendequas in comparison with these killers because of those details and because he was a convicted pedophile. "Defendant's criminal record reflects both a 1980 conviction for attempted aggravated sexual contact and a 1982 conviction for sexual assault and aggravated assault. That criminal record increases his culpability," Zazzali wrote. In her dissent, Long protested this point, saying state officials have proclaimed that pedophiles suffer a mental defect that cannot be safely cured. If this is true on one hand, Long said, then it must also be accepted on the other hand as a mental compulsion that could drive Timmendequas to attack, a defect not evident in the other killers. When the court upheld the death penalty for Timmendequas the first time in August 1999, it was split 4-3. The majority at the time concluded the trial in Mercer County -- which attracted national media coverage -- had been conducted fairly despite the likelihood the jurors knew about the case in advance and thus probably knew Timmendequas had prior convictions. Jurors are not supposed to consider previous crimes when determining a verdict or sentence. In their dissent, 3 of the court's 7 justices in 1999 had said the danger the jurors were aware of past events meant the death penalty had to be reversed and a new sentencing trial had to be conducted with a fresh jury. Chief Justice Deborah T. Poritz recused herself from both Timmendequas appeals because of her role as attorney general at the time of the murder and trial. Justice Peter Verniero, also a former attorney general, recused himself from Thursday's ruling as well.
Copyright 1995-2005 by Elisabeth Wetsch
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