Monday, December 17, 2007

'Megan's Law' killer escapes death under N.J. execution ban

'Megan's Law' killer escapes death under N.J. execution ban

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NEW: Child killer Jesse Timmendequas, 46, is now off New Jersey's death row

New Jersey governor signs state ban on executions

Governor: "Government cannot provide a fool-proof death penalty"

Legislation replaces death penalty with life in prison without parole

TRENTON, New Jersey (CNN) -- The man who raped and killed 7-year-old Megan Kanka -- the 1994 crime that inspired "Megan's Law" -- is one of eight men whose sentences were commuted to life in prison this week as part of New Jersey's new ban on execution.

The Garden State on Monday became the first state in more than three decades to abolish the death penalty after a commission ruled the punishment is "inconsistent with evolving standards of decency."

Gov. Jon Corzine the day before commuted the sentences of eight men sitting on the state's death row. They will now serve life in prison without parole, according to the governor's office.

Among the eight is Jesse Timmendequas, 46, who was sentenced to death in June 1997 for Megan's murder.

Prosecutors said Timmendequas lured Megan to his home by saying he wanted to show her a puppy. He then raped her, beat her and strangled her with a belt. A day later, he led police to her body.

"Megan's Law," introduced after her death, requires that authorities notify neighbors when a sex offender moves into an area. Timmendequas had twice been convicted of sex crimes -- on 5- and 7-year-olds -- before he murdered Megan.

In signing Monday's bill, Corzine called it a "momentous day" and made New Jersey the first state to ban capital punishment since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated it in 1976.

"It's a day of progress for the state of New Jersey and for the millions of people across our nation and around the globe who reject the death penalty as a moral or practical response to the grievous, even heinous, crime of murder," Corzine said.

Society is not forgiving criminals, the Democratic governor insisted, but the law is necessary because "government cannot provide a fool-proof death penalty that precludes the possibility of executing the innocent." Watch Corzine sign the document »

"Society must ask," he continued, "is it not morally superior to imprison 100 people for life than it is to execute all 100 when it's probable we execute an innocent?"

The state Assembly approved the measure Thursday by a 44-36 vote after the Senate OK'd it 21-16.

New Jersey has not executed a prisoner since 1963.

The new legislation replaces the death penalty with life in prison without parole. The bill was introduced in November after a state commission concluded capital punishment was an ineffective deterrent to crime.

Since the Supreme Court's reinstatement of the death penalty, almost 1,100 people have been executed in 37 states. See the death penalty by state »

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment, New Jersey joins 13 states and the District of Columbia that do not use execution as a means of punishment.

CNN's Bill Mears and Mythili Rao contributed to this report.

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