Neighbors of Kanka Family Question Premise of Megan's Law
DONNA MURPHY WESTON
Jul. 09, 1996
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) _ The parents of Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old girl whose murder gave rise to Megan's Law, had heard years earlier that a convicted child molester was living across the street, according to interviews with neighbors and a published report Monday.
That means Megan's Law is based on a flawed premise _ that if only the Kankas had known a convicted sex offender lived on their street, they might have been able to save their daughter, the New Jersey Law Journal reported Monday.
``The ironic thing is Megan's Law doesn't really apply to this case because the whole neighborhood did know'' that Joseph Cifelli was a convicted sex offender, Fred Ervin Jr. told The Associated Press Monday night.
Ervin grew up in the Hamilton Township house where the Kankas lived for 15 years before the murder.
But Megan's father, Richard Kanka, denounced the Law Journal report in an interview with the AP Monday night, and adamantly denied knowing anything more than rumors about his neighbor's criminal history.
``Nobody in this neighborhood knew,'' Kanka said. ``Why don't they come and tell me to my face I knew there was a convicted sex offender and I let my daughter come out there?''
Neighbors told the Journal _ and confirmed to the AP _ that they worried about two people who moved in with Cifelli and his mother 6 years ago.
One, twice-convicted child molester Jesse Timmendequas, 35, is accused of sexually assaulting and killing Megan in July 1994 after luring her to the house by promising to show her a new puppy. The trial is set for September.
Kanka accused the Journal of trying to ``undermine what me and Maureen have been doing all these years.''
Thanks in part to the Kankas' lobbying efforts, Megan's Law now requires released sex offenders to register with police and allows for community notification of their whereabouts if authorities fear they will strike again.
``You can take your child by the hand, point that person out and say this man hurts children,'' Megan's mother, Maureen Kanka, said when she lobbied for the law. ``Our children are very naive and predators know this.''
But several residents said Monday that they already had been telling their children and grandchildren to avoid the Cifelli house and those who lived there.
Furthermore, at least four neighbors said they believe the Kankas were aware of Cifelli's past, The Journal reported, and two of them _ James Rivera and Joan Kowalski _ confirmed that in interviews with the AP.
Richard Kanka, who was not interviewed for the Journal story, denied knowing the facts about Cifelli's criminal history.
``There were rumors about him (Cifelli) floating around years ago, before Timmendequas moved here. But you can't go on rumors,'' he said.
A police report in court records states that the night Megan disappeared, a neighbor told police Cifelli had been convicted for child molestation.
Rivera, who lives around the block, said he talked with Maureen Kanka several weeks after the killing, and based on that conversation, he believes the Kankas knew about Cifelli as well.
``It was at a neighborhood watch meeting,'' Rivera said. ``They had known about Joseph Cifelli ... Most of the neighbors right in that vicinity knew about him, not about the other guys.''
Kowalski, 64, who lives two doors down from the Kankas, said word of mouth had quickly spread the news nine years ago that Cifelli had returned home to live with his mother after spending time in jail for a sex offense.
Cifelli met Timmendequas and another inmate in prison, and once released, invited them in late 1992 or early 1993 to live with him.
Kowalski said she told her granddaughter, who occasionally stayed with her, not to go across the street. ``Everybody sort of knew and just sort of watched their kids,'' she said.