A jury ordered the death penalty Friday for the child molester whose rape and strangling of his 7-year-old neighbor led to a national movement to notify neighbors of sex criminals in their midst.
The jury rejected defense arguments that Jesse K. Timmendequas’ life should be spared because a childhood of violence and abuse left him unable to control his lust for little girls like Megan Kanka.
Timmendequas, 36, blinked quickly when the verdict was read, and began to shake nervously, but his face remained expressionless. Spectators outside the courthouse applauded.
Megan’s parents clasped hands as they awaited the verdict. When it was announced, her mother, Maureen Kanka, began to cry. She buried her face in husband Richard’s shoulder, and he put his arm around her.
“Megan was worth a life,” she said outside court. “This man will never, ever, ever get out and hurt another child.”
As the clerk asked each juror, “Is this your verdict?” some seemed to be choking back tears as they answered.
The same jury that convicted Timmendequas (pronounced tih-MEN-duh-kwahs) on May 30 of murder, aggravated sexual assault and kidnapping decided unanimously that he should receive death by injection rather than life without parole.
Timmendequas lived across the street from the little girl. He lured her into his house to see his puppy, then raped and beat her, strangled her with a belt and dumped the body in a park nearby.
The 1994 slaying caused even more 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.
Megan’s parents channeled their grief into a campaign for laws to notify a community when a sex offender moves in. New Jersey and most other states passed versions of “Megan’s Law,” and President Clinton signed a national version.
The law has undergone several challenges by opponents who say it tramples sex offenders’ privacy.
Defense attorney Roy Greenman said he could appeal on the grounds that jurors knew about Timmendequas’ criminal past because of their familiarity with Megan’s Law. Evidence of any prior crimes was not admitted at Timmendequas’ trial.
Timmendequas’ brother, Paul, testified via videotape that his father repeatedly sexually abused him and Jesse, and once raped a neighborhood girl in front of them. But a prosecution investigator said Paul told him he was drunk when he made the videotaped statement, and exaggerated the tale.
Prosecutor Kathryn Flicker acknowledged Timmendequas’ childhood “was not a bed of roses.”
But she asked: “Where does individual responsibility fit into the whole scheme? He was responsible as an adult, as we all are.”