“Unsuspecting, trusting seven year old Megan walked into the defendant’s house. She would never walk out.”
-Kathryn Flicker, Prosecutor
It was the 29th of July 1994. Seven year old Megan Kanka left her house around 6.30pm to play with a friend who lived on the same street as she did. Megan lived with her parents, Richard and Maureen, and her twelve year old sister and nine year old brother. Richard and Maureen had no problem allowing Megan to play outside. They believed she was safe. They lived in a quiet suburban Hamilton Township in New Jersey, United States of America and they knew the area well as they had lived there for fifteen years.
When Megan left the house, Maureen lay down for a short rest. When she got up, she could not find Megan. Megan didn't return home and Maureen and Richard asked neighbours if they had seen her. A number of them told Maureen they saw her earlier that day. The neighbour from across the street told Maureen he saw Megan before dinner when she and her friend Courtney stopped to talk to him about his new boat, which was on the street in front of his house. He did not know where she went afterwards. Maureen called the police to report her daughter missing.
The police arrived at the Kanka home at 8.49pm that night. They searched their home and property but there was no sign of Megan so they began to search the neighbourhood. As part of that search, they spoke with all the neighbours and it was their interaction with one neighbour in particular that gave them a break in the case.The man who lived across from Megan's house, thirty six year old Jesse K. Timmendequas, told the police that he saw Megan riding her bicycle at 2:30 pm that day. Police were perplexed by this. They were aware that Jesse was the neighbour who told Maureen he saw Megan just before dinner. They asked him if he saw Megan at any other time. He told police that she was riding her bicycle in front of her house between 5:30 pm and 6:00 pm. The police wanted to know why he gave conflicting accounts.
Maureen and Richard
Jesse lived in the house across from Megan's house with Brian Jenin, Joseph Cifelli and Joseph's mother. Their house was just thirty yards from Megan's home. The police wanted to search the house. Joseph owned the house and he gave them permission to search it. Joseph told police that he was shopping with Brian around the time Megan disappeared and he gave them receipts to verify that. After police spoke to Brian and Joseph, they then spoke to Jesse again but noticed that his demeanour was somewhat different to the other two men. He was "shaking and perspiring heavily throughout the course of the interview." Police asked him to give a statement at the station. He agreed.
His written statement conflicted with what he told police earlier that night. He said in his statement that he saw Megan at 6.30pm. Police requested permission to search his car. He agreed. Police found a brown toy chest and black felt in the back of his pick up truck.
The search for Megan
Police searched the boat outside Jesse's home and also the garbage cans. In the garbage, they found a rope with some knots tied in it and what appeared to be dry blood on it. They also found the waistband of a small pair of pants. They believed the pants belonged to a child. At that stage, Jesse was still being questioned at the police station and he asked to speak with his roommate Brian. Brian was brought to the interview room and Brian told Jesse:
“They got you, they got you, they got you. You're going to need a friend on the outside, I'll be that friend.”
And just like that, police got the answers they were looking for but not the outcome they had hoped for. They found out where Megan was. Jesse told police:
“She's in Mercer County Park.”
Police hoped that Megan would still be alive. But Jesse told them that Megan was not alive. She was dead. Megan had been sexually assaulted and murdered. Jesse led police to where her body was.
Jesse was charged with capital murder, aggravated assault and kidnapping.
At his Trial, the full extent of what happened to Megan was laid bare. It was the Prosecution's case that Jesse had been watching Megan for months. They knew this because Jesse told police that:
''I had learned my attraction to little girls was the softness of their skin.''
He described watching Megan for some time:
''I would get sweaty palms and my heart would race. I would go back into the house.''
Detective Robert O’Dwyer gave evidence. He read Jesse's words from his statement and said that Jesse talked about how he had watched Megan:
``A lot of times during the summer, she would be sitting on the curb across the street. She would write with chalk in the streets. She would wear shorts with no panties and I would see this.″
The Prosecutor told the Court that after watching Megan for some time, Jesse eventually decided to lure her into his home. He did this by promising her she could see and play with his new puppy.
When Megan went into the house, Jesse forced her into his bedroom where he attempted to sexually assault her and at that point Megan screamed. She tried to run away but he stopped her. Jesse strangled Megan with his belt and while doing so, a struggle took place and she hit her face on the dresser and her head on the floor. Megan's head was bleeding so he put a plastic bag over her head to stop the blood getting on to the carpet. During the struggle, Megan bit Jesse on the hand. The teeth marks on Jesse's hand were later identified by a forensic dentist as belonging to Megan.
After Jesse strangled Megan with his belt, he sexually assaulted her and then put Megan into a toy box and carried the box downstairs. When he put the box in his truck, he thought he heard Megan cough. When Jesse got to Mercer Park, he took Megan's body out of the box and placed her body in tall weeds. At that point, he sexually assaulted her again.
Jesse then went to the convenience store to buy cigarettes and went home.
The Prosecutor told the Court what Jesse had told police to try to explain why he had killed her:
“I was afraid she would tell her mother.I was afraid I would get in trouble and go to jail.”
Along with Jesse's confession, the Prosecution had other evidence too. They presented evidence of blood and hair samples and portions of Megan’s clothing that were found in garbage cans outside Jesse's home to the Court. Strands of Jesse's hair were discovered on the shirt Megan was wearing when her body was identified. Hair matching Megan’s was found in Jesse's bedroom and on a piece of carpet in his house.
The Prosecutor told the Court:
“Megan had become a walking, talking piece of evidence. She knew him. She could identify him. He knew it and he had to get rid of that threat. And so he did.”
At Jesse's Trial, the Autopsy showed what Megan went through based on her injuries. The Autopsy revealed petechial hemorrhages in both eyes which is normally a telltale sign of death by strangulation. There was a ligature mark on Megan's neck that was consistent with the leather belt found in Jesse's room.
Megan had bruising and contusions under her chin. This was consistent with an object or hand placed on her neck. There was blunt trauma to her eye which was caused either by a fist or by striking the head against an object. There was also bruising on the back, arms and legs. This was consistent with Megan being held on her back with someone on top of her.
There were bruises on her colon and right kidney which were caused by separate blows and/or someone's weight on top of her and a tear in the hymenal margin and penetration of the vagina caused by a finger or penis. There were two tears in the mucosa covering the anus, indicating penetration by a penis. Severe hemorrhaging was caused by three separate blows to the head with a blunt object.
The cause of death was determined as mechanical strangulation with the leather belt. This would have constricted oxygen to Megan's brain causing brain death within three to four minutes.
It was the Defense's case that the confession should be viewed skeptically. The Defense lawyer said:
“A confession, a so-called confession, an admission is not different from any other evidence that will be presented to you. You will be judging the credibility of those statements."
Defense lawyers called no witnesses. Their case focused on an argument that police had managed to cajole the confessions from Jesse.
Jesse was found guilty and the Jury had to decide whether he would receive the death penalty or not.
The Defense argued that he should not receive the death penalty as he had a troubled childhood. They told the Jury that Jesse was an unwanted child who was beaten and raped regularly by his father.
Jesse read a short statement to the Jury:
“OK I am sorry for what I’ve done to Megan. I pray for her and her family every day. I have to live with this and what I’ve done for the rest of my life.I ask you to let me live so I, someday, I can understand and have an understanding why something like this could happen.”
The Prosecution told the Jury they wanted just one thing. Justice.
“On behalf of the state, we do not beg, we do not plead, we do not implore, we ask for justice. And in this case, justice should be death.”
The Jury agreed and he was sentenced to death.
The Kankas believed their daughter Megan was safe that evening. It was a bright evening and she was playing with friends. Something she did almost every evening. The Kankas had friends of their own on the street as did Megan and it was a quiet area with many families. Their two other children had played on the street many times also. But what they didn't know was that there was a serious threat to their daughter's safety just thirty yards from their own home.
Richard and Maureen only discovered after Megan's murder that Jesse was a convicted sex offender. He had already served six years in prison for aggravated assault and attempted sexual assault on another child.
In 1981, Jesse took a five year old girl into the woods and pulled down her pants. He received a suspended sentence for that crime. In 1982,he was found guilty of attempting to sexually assault a seven year old girl whom he choked into unconsciousness. He was sentenced to ten years in prison for that crime but was released after just six years because of good behavior.
Jesse then moved into a house across the street from the Kanka home with two other sexual offenders he had met while incarcerated.
Richard and Maureen were outraged. They fought for a nationwide law to protect other families and children after Megan's murder. They wanted a law that would give parents the right to know. A law that would require notification when a convicted sex offender moves into a neighborhood.
Over 400,000 citizens signed a petition demanding immediate legislative action on the law that had to be written. Megan's Law. In just eighty nine days, the New Jersey State Legislature passed Megan's Law.
Jesse remained on New Jersey's Death Row until the 17th of December 2007 when the New Jersey Legislature abolished the state's death penalty. Jesse's sentence was commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
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