quinta-feira, 13 de setembro de 2007

Megan's Law or the public database of pedophiles


Jesse Timmendequas

Little Girl Lost
Megan Kanka, victim
It had only been three hours, three hours since Maureen Kanka’s daughter Megan had vanished after riding her bicycle with a friend through a perfect summer evening.
Mothers always fear the worst. Maybe Megan had just gone off to visit a friend, she thought. Maybe her bubbly blonde daughter had lingered too long chasing after fireflies. This wasn’t a hard luck urban neighborhood where there were potential predators lurking on every street corner. This was Hamilton, a small suburban neighborhood -- not affluent but comfortable, friendly and, above all, safe. Whatever had happened, Megan would be all right. Wouldn’t she?
Maureen Kanka (AP)
Maureen glanced out the window of her home. Her residential street had been transformed. Police lights cast an eerie blue and blood-red wash over the prim post-war facades of the houses. Television lights flared. Firefighters, cops and volunteers, 300 of them, some from as far away as Bucks County in neighboring Pennsylvania, gathered into platoons, waiting for the order to take their search for the little girl in ever-widening arcs through the backyards and weedlots of Hamilton. It seemed like some horrible nightmare. The lights. The sirens. The television reporters carefully choosing their words to squeeze every last drop of pathos and panic out of the scene.
Maureen had almost been on autopilot when she had spoken to the reporters earlier. She had expressed what any mother would under the circumstances: fear and hope.
“Please, please help us find our daughter,” she had told the reporters. “She’s a wonderful girl ... she’s only seven. Let her come back.”
Maureen stepped away from the window.
Jesse Timmendequas
It seemed that everyone in the neighborhood had offered to help. Even that strange, pie-faced man who had just moved in across the street. Jesse something. Jesse Timmendequas. She had spoken to him earlier that night, records would later show. Immediately after Megan failed to come home, Maureen had gone door to door, asking her neighbors if they had seen her. She had run into Jesse. He had told her, yes, he had seen her, earlier that day, while he had been out in the yard working on his car.
There had been rumors about Jesse and the two other men who lived in his rented house. Some said that the men had been in trouble with the law, but no one knew the details. Besides, this funny rag doll of a man with his mop of unkempt blonde hair, his glasses that seemed too big for his face, and that strange little wound on his right hand, a wound that resembled a bite mark, wanted to help.
He offered to carry a picture of Megan. He would put it on a flier, hand it out, he said. Maybe someone would recognize her. It was something.
How could she have known? How could anyone have known that this odd little man would, within 24 hours, lead the searchers through knee-high weeds to the spot where Megan lay dead? Raped. Strangled with a belt, her limp body crammed into a toy box and dumped in a lonely corner of a county park.
How could she have known that Jesse Timmendequas was a monster?

In a Child's Name
They call it Megan’s Law.

And to many people it’s a monument to a little girl who didn’t have to die. To many, it’s a legal talisman that promises to protect children from sexual predators -- strangers like Jesse Timmendequas -- who hide in anonymity.
Megan’s slaying was a particularly horrific crime, and news of it shocked the community where the pretty blonde girl with the gap-toothed smile lived and died. But the horror went far beyond Hamilton.
Throughout the state, people demanded that something be done. There had to be some mechanism to warn them when a dangerous sexual predator was on the loose in a community. After all, people -- parents, children, schoolteachers, police-- all had a right to know when such an animal lived in their midst, didn't they?
Dick Zimmer
Dick Zimmer, then a state senator in New Jersey, and later a one-term congressman, certainly thought so. It was the dawn of the get-tough-on-crime era, and, with the blessing of the leaders of his Republican Party and support from both sides of the aisle, Zimmer and his colleagues hastily cobbled together a package of bills, which, among other things, required that anyone convicted of a sex offense undergo evaluation. The bills required that the risk sex offenders posed to the community be assessed and that, depending on that assessment, the community be notified.
For those deemed least likely to resume their criminal behavior, only the local authorities would be notified. Those considered a moderate risk would have their names circulated among police, local schools and community groups, and for those considered the most dangerous, a public alarm would be sounded once they were released back into the community.
On the surface, the law seemed to present a reasonable and reassuring answer to a real danger, and it was quickly embraced by the state's then-attorney general, Deborah Poritz (now chief justice of the New Jersey State Supreme Court), by then-governor Christine Todd Whitman (now the head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency) and by leaders in both houses of the state legislature.
And so, within weeks of its introduction, thanks in part to the moving testimony and unflagging support of Maureen Kanka, Megan’s Law was overwhelmingly adopted. Two years later, when Zimmer went on to Congress, he saw to it that a version of the New Jersey statutes became federal law.
But from the beginning there were those who warned that the law had serious flaws. For one thing, early studies, such as one conducted in Los Angeles County, indicated that information disseminated about convicted sex offenders was often wrong. Real, hard-core pedophiles often gave authorities bogus addresses or moved without warning, making the registration effectively useless, the Los Angeles study found.
Prosecutors, noting that the vast majority of sexual offenses, particularly those against children, were solved only when the offender confessed, warned that the laws could backfire. Threatening accused molesters with lifelong registration made it that much more difficult to force an admission of guilt, obligating prosecutors to risk losing cases and exposing victims to additional trauma at trial, they said.
What's more, many offenders had been convicted or pleaded guilty in the past to less serious offenses, crimes that did not rise to the level of Megan's Law notification. Notably, the name Jesse Timmendequas, Megan's killer, would not have been publicly released if the sex offenders’ registry had existed at the time of the girl's death. His prior offenses would not have warranted widespread community notification. A popular saying among prosecutors in New Jersey's 26 counties is, "Megan's Law would not have saved Megan."

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