Convicted killer waives chance at seeking parole; prosecutor urges death
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) _ The man who raped and killed Megan Kanka deserves to die for ``the inexcusable taking of the life″ of the 7-year-old whose case inspired laws to protect children from sexual predators, a prosecutor said today.
Jesse K. Timmendequas, 36, was convicted May 30 of raping and strangling the girl in a crime that led to laws across the country requiring that communities be notified when convicted sex offenders move in.
The same jury that convicted Timmendequas of eight charges, including murder, kidnapping and sexual assault, returned today to begin hearing evidence to determine his sentence.
In opening arguments for the penalty phase, Assistant Mercer County Prosecutor Lewis Korngut told the jury it will rely on the same evidence presented to convict Timmendequas to now determine his punishment.
``The defendant sits here no longer cloaked in the presumption of innocence. In our eyes, he is now a murder, a rapist, a sodomizer and a kidnapper of innocent 7-year-old Megan Kanka,″ Korngut said pointing at Timmendequas.
The prosecution has presented two aggravating factors in seeking the death penalty, that the girl was killed during a rape or kidnapping and the murder was committed to avoid arrest.
``He strangled Megan Kanka for one reason: to silence her for good,″ Korngut said. ``The only justice can then be the defendant’s life for the taking of the life of 7-year-old Megan Nicole Kanka.″
Defense lawyer Roy B. Greenman asked the jury to keep an open mind and not be swayed by a case that has garnered national attention. He told the jury it must fight to put aside its emotions.
``Yes, it was a terrible crime that you found him guilty of, but this is not a case where the individual should be getting the death penalty,″ Greenman said in his nearly hour-long opening statement. ``We are going to give you very valid reasons in our presentation why you should have compassion and mercy for Jesse Timmendequas and not sentence him to death.″
Judge Andrew J. Smithson interviewed jurors in his chambers today to make sure they had not been influenced by media accounts in the 10 days since they delivered their guilty verdict. He said he concluded that all 12 jurors and two alternates remained fair and impartial.
Timmendequas today waived his right to challenge application of a law, enacted since Megan’s killing, that would subject him to life in prison without parole if the jury does not return a death verdict.
The defense move means jurors will be instructed that, if they do not return a death verdict, Timmendequas will spend the rest of his life in prison.
Under the law in effect at the time Megan was killed, Timmendequas would have faced a minimum of 55 years without parole on the murder and kidnapping charges.
The judge questioned Timmendequas to make sure he understood that the new law would not necessarily apply to his case.
``You understand you could never get out of jail,″ the judge asked Timmendequas, who replied: ``Yes.″
Timmendequas, who was twice convicted of child molestation, lured his young neighbor to his house to show her his puppy. The girl was raped, beaten and strangled with a belt. A day later, he led police to her body.
The July 29, 1994, slaying became a national symbol as Megan’s parents campaigned for the notification laws.
The defense planned to focus on humanizing Timmendequas by offering testimony about his troubled childhood, hoping to persuade jurors that his life should be spared.
Timmendequas was molested by his father and physically abused by an unloving mother who bore 10 children fathered by seven men, the defense has said. He was surrounded by drunkenness, violence, and criminal activity.
Yet a member of his family said he doesn’t deserve any leniency because of his past.
``They way we were raised and the household we grew up in has nothing to do with what he’s done,″ his brother Paul said.
``I’m proud they found him guilty,″ Paul told The Sunday Star-Ledger of Newark. ``Jersey has, what, lethal injection? Give me the needle.″
Death penalty experts say the defense has an uphill battle.
``It’s a very difficult case because it involves the death of a child, which is an extremely emotional issue,″ said John Call Jr., an attorney who has handled nearly a dozen death penalty trials. ``It’s going to be very compelling.″