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 Kanka 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 abolished the death penalty in 2007 and his death sentence was converted to a life sentence with no possibility of parole. The court Tuesday found fault with that ruling.
The court did uphold his life sentence for kidnapping Megan Kanka.
“On remand, we anticipate a favorable decision,” said Casey DiBlasio, a spokeswoman for the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office.
The state public defender's office, which represents Timmendequas, did not have an immediate reaction to Tuesday's ruling.
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 Kanka's mother, Maureen, has become a leading advocate for the laws. And the victim's father, Richard Kanka, is now running for state Senate as a Republican.