Repeat sex offender found guilty of murdering 7-year-old Megan Kanka
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) _ A repeat sex offender was found guilty today of murdering 7-year-old Megan Kanka, and the jury will consider whether he should be executed for the crime that sparked the crusade for Megan’s Law.
The jury decided that Jesse K. Timmendequas, 36, killed the girl ``by his own conduct, purposely or knowingly″ _ making him eligible for the death penalty.
The little girl lived across the street from Timmendequas in a quiet, middle-class neighborhood of Hamilton Township, about five miles from here.
Timmendequas 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 defendant sat stone-faced as the verdict was read.
The July 29, 1994 slaying caused outrage when it was learned that Timmendequas had two prior sex crime convictions: for a 1981 attack on a 5-year-old he lured into woods, and for an attempted sexual assault the following year on a 7-year-old.
Maureen Kanka, Megan’s mother, launched a campaign for laws requiring that communities be notified of potentially dangerous sex offenders in their midst. Versions of ``Megan’s Law″ were passed in New Jersey and elsewhere and President Clinton last year signed a federal bill. The law has been challenged in state and federal courts.
The jury of six men and six women heard graphic, heartbreaking testimony and detailed forensic evidence linking Timmendequas to Megan’s slaying. Tears on the witness stand from her mother and a police detective, and the prosecution’s dramatic closing statement, led to defense motions for a mistrial that were denied by Judge Andrew J. Smithson.
The defense called no witnesses, but attacked the ``so-called″ alibis of two other sex offenders who lived with Timmendequas, suggesting they might have been involved in the crime. Defense lawyer Barbara Lependorf also argued that police coerced her client into confessing.
Jury deliberations began early Thursday afternoon after 17 days of trial, and totaled a little over four hours. The jury was chosen from neighboring Hunterdon County because of extensive publicity in Mercer County where the crime happened.
Before recessing Thursday, the jury asked the judge for clarification of some elements of capital murder and aggravated manslaughter. Smithson spent nearly half an hour this morning explaining the differences between those two crimes and non-capital murder.
The same jury will return for a penalty phase of the trial to determine whether to impose a sentence of death by lethal injection. The prosecution will present ``aggravating factors″ it contends warrant execution, and the defense will offer ``mitigating factors″ to argue for his life.
If the jury cannot agree unanimously on a death sentence, Timmendequas will face 30 years to life in prison on the murder charge. The ``felony murder″ charges also carry minimum 30 year terms.
Smithson told the jury he was not sure when the penalty phase would begin. An aide to the judge said it would be at least three working days from today.
Timmendequas, who told police that he had been ``getting those feelings again for little girls,″ lured Megan into his house to see his new puppy, the prosecution said. Police witnesses said Timmendequas led them to her body a day later in a nearby park.
The jury heard graphic testimony from a medical examiner that Megan was brutally beaten, raped and strangled with a belt. It also heard several confessions Timmendequas made to police in the hours after the girl disappeared.
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.
In her closing argument, prosecutor Kathryn Flicker said the killing was ``so abhorrent, it was chilling to the extreme.
``He killed her like an exterminator. He killed her like a bug,″ the prosecutor said.
``This was a man that wanted to kill, intended to kill, chose to kill and did kill purposely or knowingly by his own conduct,″ Flicker said.
The defense focused on trying to raise doubt by suggesting police erred in not treating Timmendequas’ two roommates, also convicted child molesters, as possible suspects.
In closing arguments Wednesday, Lependorf said that when Timmendequas confessed, he was protecting his roommates, Brian Jenin and Joseph Cifelli.
``I am not standing here and telling you Jesse had nothing to do with this,″ Lependorf said in her summations. ``He knew what went on in that house. So Jesse confesses, takes all the weight.″
Lependorf also argued that Megan was not lured into Timmendequas’ house, but initiated the deadly encounter by asking to see his puppy. And she disputed the prosecution claim that Timmendequas intended to kill.
``Megan’s death certainly was a tragic, tragic result of a situation that got totally out of hand,″ Lependorf said. ``But I suggest to you that nobody purposefully or knowingly murdered her.″