Court: NJ Megan's Law killer can continue appeal

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Posted: Jun 14, 2011 5:11 PM
Court: NJ Megan's Law killer can continue appeal

The man convicted of killing a 7-year-old girl who became the namesake of Megan's Laws across the country should be allowed to pursue claims that his lawyers were ineffective, a state appeals court ruled Tuesday.

But the appeals court did not agree with Jesse Timmendequas' argument that his kidnapping, sexual assault and murder conviction should be overturned and he should be released from prison.

Instead, the appeals court ordered a state judge to consider whether there's merit to Timmendequas' arguments, most of which claim faulty representation.

Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old who lived across the street from Timmendequas in Hamilton, N.J., disappeared on July 29, 1994. Nearly 24 hours later, Timmendequas admitted that he had lured the little girl to his home with the promise of showing her a puppy, then sexually assaulted and strangled her before dumping her body in a park.

To make the horror even worse for her family, Timmendequas had previously served six years in prison for aggravated assault and attempted sexual assault of another child. He was living with two other convicted sex offenders.

Timmendequas was convicted in the crimes against Megan in 1997 and given a death sentence with the provision that if the death sentence was vacated by a court, he would still serve consecutive life sentences for murder and first-degree kidnapping. The state Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and the federal Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal.

He applied for post-conviction relief.

But a state judge ruled his quest to be freed moot after the state Legislature and then-Gov. Jon Corzine abolished the death penalty in 2007 and his death sentence was converted to a life sentence with no possibility of parole. The court on Tuesday found fault with that ruling.

The court did uphold his life sentence for kidnapping Megan.

Megan's father, Richard Kanka, who is now running for the state Senate as a Republican, said there are flaws with a system that allowed the appeal.

"The Legislature and Jon Corzine were wrong to abolish the death penalty for sexual predators who kill children," Kanka said in a statement. "Now these deranged killers will waste our tax dollars with appeals, and some will be freed."

A spokeswoman for the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office said Timmendequas would not be successful in his appeal in the end.

"On remand, we anticipate a favorable decision," said Casey DiBlasio, a spokeswoman for the office.

The state public defender's office, which represents Timmendequas, declined to comment on Tuesday's ruling. Spokesman Tom Rosenthal said it is the agency's policy not to comment on a pending legal matter.

Timmendequas, now 50, is in New Jersey State Prison in Trenton.

His crime led to the creation of state and federal Megan's Laws that require notification when high-risk sex offenders move into neighborhoods.

Megan's mother, Maureen Kanka, has become a leading advocate for the laws.