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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Megan's Law Inspiration Faces Trial At Long Last

By John J. Goldman


LOS ANGELES TIMES


NEW YORK -- It was a journey from a nightmare. Moments earlier, family members had identified the body of the 7-year-old girl found in a park as their daughter. She had been kidnapped, raped and strangled.


On the ride back home, as their car approached an abandoned gas station at the intersection of five roads, the family of Megan Kanka noticed a man soliciting signatures on a petition.


They stopped and discovered he had two children, and he shared their outrage at the crime. The petition called for several things -- including notification when a convicted child molester moves into a neighborhood.


Little did they realize during that sorrowful moment in the summer of 1994 that they were at the start of an odyssey that would take them through the Oval Office and bring about fundamental legal changes throughout the nation.


"Never in my wildest dreams, I thought I would be an activist,'' said Maureen Kanka, Megan's mother, who campaigned tirelessly for what has become known throughout the United States as Megan's Law, which requires that neighbors be informed when convicted sex offenders move in. "I was at home for 12 years raising my children.''


Monday, the final chapter begins. Jesse Timmendequas, 35, a twice-convicted sex offender, is scheduled to go on trial in Trenton, New Jersey, accused of luring Megan to her death with the promise of seeing a puppy. He could face the death penalty if convicted.


The defendant was convicted twice for prior sexual misconduct, the first case involving a 1981 attack on a 5-year-old he lured into the woods. He received probation in that case.


A year later, Timmendequas was found guilty of attempted sexual assault on a 7-year-old, whom he choked into unconsciousness. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison for that attack. His sentence was reduced, and he was released in 1988.


Timmendequas then moved into a house directly across the street from the Kankas' home in Hamilton Township, New Jersey. Living with him were two former inmates who also were convicted of sex crimes against children. They had met at a facility for compulsive sex offenders.


Since her daughter's murder, Maureen Kanka has made dozens of speeches in at least eight states about the dangers of child molestation. Basically a private person, she still gets nervous every time she faces an audience.


"I request a podium. I need to hold on to something,'' she said in an interview. "In today's society, we have to be honest and forward with our kids. ... We have children taken out of their yards. Kids can't trust everybody outside the front door. Through a child's eyes, the profile is an ogre. That is a misconception. They [pedophiles] look like Mom or Dad, not an ogre. In some instances, they are Mom and Dad," she said.


Her message struck a national chord.


On May 17, 1996, U.S. President Bill Clinton signed a federal law requiring states to pass legislation including community notification when a convicted sex offender moves into a neighborhood.


All 50 states now require sexually violent predators and people convicted of related crimes against minors to register with law enforcement authorities where they live.