After brief deliberations, a jury found a twice-convicted sex offender guilty Friday of murdering and raping 7-year-old Megan Kanka - a crime that sparked laws throughout the nation requiring public disclosure when sexual predators move into neighborhoods.
The decision means that Jesse K. Timmendequas, who lured the little girl into his home with the promise of seeing a puppy then attacked and strangled her, could receive the death penalty when jurors consider the punishment phase of the case.
Timmendequas, 36, sat silently and showed no emotion when the six-man, six-woman jury which had pondered his fate for a little more than four hours rendered its verdict.
He also was found guilty of kidnapping, four counts of aggravated sexual assault and two counts of felony murder for killing the child while committing other crimes.
Maureen Kanka, Megan’s mother, who attended court each day in Trenton, N.J. gasped when the forewoman of the jury announced “guilty” to the top count of murder. Her eyes filled with tears and she lowered her face into her hands as reading of the verdict continued.
Tears also welled up in the eyes of her husband, Richard.
President Clinton issued a statement saying that members of the Kanka family (they have two other children) “took their pain and helped guide the nation to adopt legislation that is going to protect other children from those who would harm them.
“We owe the Kanka family not only our sympathy but a debt of gratitude as well,” the president said.
The same jury will return to determine whether Timmendequas will die by lethal injection for the murder on July 9, 1994.
If there is not unanimous agreement on the death sentence, Timmendequas could face 30 years to life in prison for the murder charge.
Prosecutors presented dramatic, emotionally wrenching evidence during the three-week trial - including what police said were confessions by Timmendequas, who sat quietly in court and did not take the witness stand.
After the murder, Maureen Kanka campaigned tirelessly to change the nation’s laws and require public notification when a convicted sex offender moves into a neighborhood.
On May 17, 1996 with members of Megan’s family in the Oval Office, President Clinton signed a federal law mandating such statutes or risk losing a portion of federal funds.
Many of the laws are being challenged in the courts both on practical and constitutional grounds of due process.