Megan’s Law – and criticism – spreads across country

The Associated Press
Saturday August 04, 2001

HAMILTON, N.J. — Seven years ago, Maureen Kanka and her husband thought they would live in their house for the rest of their lives. As she looks toward the small park across the street, she’s no longer sure. 

The home that once stood there is gone, replaced with flowers, benches and a goldfish pond fed by a small waterfall. The Kankas no longer have to look at the place where their 7-year-old daughter was beaten, raped and strangled by a convicted sex offender. 

“It’s very hard to live here,” Kanka said. “Even though it’s beautiful now, the house is always there.” 

Seven years ago, the man who lived in that house, Jesse Timmendequas led police to the body of Megan Kanka, hidden in tall weeds in a nearby park. He was later sentenced to death. 

Since then, laws bearing Megan’s name have been passed throughout the country requiring convicted sex offenders to register with authorities. New Jersey expanded its version just last month. There is also a federal law. 

But state and federal courts have sharply restricted public notices of sex offenders’ presence to protect their right to confidentiality. While the U.S. Supreme Court has not yet weighed in, critics say the case has already changed the way some civil liberties are handled in court. “Megan’s Law has done more to cancel redemption as a societal good than anything else that’s been enacted legislatively in the last century,” said Jack Furlong, a defense lawyer who has fought to limit New Jersey’s version of the law. 

“Judges now routinely think that it’s OK to bypass the Constitution in the name of political expediency.” 

“It used to be in America you could pay your debt to society and move on,” added Edward Mallett, a Texas attorney and president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “You still can if you’re an armed robber, or a killer or a writer of bad checks.” 

Almost since the day of Megan’s death, Maureen and Richard Kanka have pushed to allow communities easier access to information about sex offenders. Had they known Timmendequas was living across the street with two other convicted sex offenders, they say, Megan would be alive today. 

Kathryn Flicker, now the director of the state Division of Criminal Justice, prosecuted the case in Mercer County. She met the Kankas for the first time when they arrived at the medical examiner’s office to identify their daughter’s body the day after it was found. 

“Her daughter’s death brought her forward with a mission,” Flicker said. “I’m sure if this had not happened, you would never have heard of Maureen Kanka. I’m sure she wishes you’d never heard of her.” 

Megan’s death was not unique. What the Kankas did, Flicker believes, was put people on guard in a way many had not been before. 

“They were the personification of Americans who were in the suburbs trying to do the best by their children,” said Flicker, who keeps a photo of Megan in her office on a shelf with photos of her own family. “It was sort of the culmination of a moment when people realized we had sexual predators and people weren’t dealing with it.” 

Last month, New Jersey joined some 30 other states with a law that will establish an Internet registry of sex offenders. The measure allows exceptions for juveniles and incest crimes. 

Megan’s mother believes laws are not enough. When she lectures before parents’ groups, she tells them they need to talk to their children frankly about pedophiles. 

“I often wonder what kind of impact she would have had if she had lived,” she said of her daughter. “I know what kind of impact she had in death, but I wonder.” 


On the Net: 

State site: www.state.nj.us/lps/dcj/megan/meghome.htm 

Advocate link: http://www.parentsformeganslaw.com 

Defense lawyers: http://www.criminaljustice.org