Share & Connect
On Tuesday June 14, a Trenton, New Jersey state appeals court ruled that the man convicted for the kidnapping, rape, and killing of a seven-year old girl should be allowed to pursue claims that his lawyers were ineffective during his 1997 trial. However, the court disagreed with his claim that his entire conviction should be overturned, allowing his potential freedom.
Jesse Timmendequas, 50, who kidnapped Megan Kanka on July 29, 1994, lured her in by claiming he had a puppy at his residence where he lived with two other convicted sex offenders. Timmendequas had previously served six years in prison for aggravated assault and attempted sexual assault of another child. He proceeded to sexually abuse Megan, strangle her, and leave the body in a park. Timmendequas even participated in the organized search for Kanka. He turned himself in 24 hours after the incident.
Megan’s law, which requires notification when high-risk sex offenders move into neighborhoods, was created after the crime and named after Megan Kanka.
Unfortunately, in February 2009 researchers determined that “despite wide community support for these laws, there is little evidence to date…to support a claim that Megan’s Law is effective.” In 2007, the cost of carrying out the law was estimated at $5.1 million statewide. However, Kanka’s mother, Maureen Kanka, was one of the first to voice her opinion in supporting the law as Megan’s father, Richard Kanka, is running for State Senate.
Timmendequas was given the death sentence before he applied for post-conviction relief. After the state of New Jersey abolished the death sentence in 2007, his conviction was converted to a life sentence with no possibility of parole.
Timmendequas, like all inmates on death row had been granted periodical opportunities to appeal his conviction. However, a judge has ruled that after the conversion from the death penalty to life without parole, this opportunity no longer remains. Since he has argued through his lawyers that his 1997 trial was unfair, the same judge has allowed for a different process.
Additionally, Timmendequas has said that during his earlier trial he was not allowed to participate in neurological testing after his conviction.
The judge has said that while some of Timmendequas’s motions have merit, his original conviction will not be overturned. Now, a new judge will determine the merit of the appeals through the arguments of two opposing attorneys. This trial procedure has fewer witnesses, but is generally more argumentative.
According to a New Jersey paper, Timmendequas’s attorney, Assistant Deputy Public Defender Jay Wilensky, has said that his client had “ineffective counsel at trial because they did not offer proof of his mental retardation and because they did not object to alleged prosecutorial misconduct.”
One key issue that the defendant is expected to argue is the bias of the jury due to high volumes of media coverage during Timmendequas’s 1997 trial. This is also an issue that has been discussed during the recent Casey Anthony trial.
At this point, the best-case scenario for Timmendequas includes a lesser sentence, or even an overturned appeal.