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Defense Shocks With Request to Keep Megan’s Name Secret

October 24, 1995

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) _ Seven-year-old Megan Kanka’s rape and slaying, allegedly by a neighbor with a hidden past of sex offenses, so outraged the public that New Jersey passed a neighborhood-notification law named for her.

Now the defendant’s lawyers want her very name excluded from Jesse Timmendequas’ capital murder trial.

They want Megan and her family to be identified to the jury by aliases.

In court papers filed Monday, the lawyers argued that Megan’s name is so well known and so closely identified with the popular Megan’s Law that Timmendequas wouldn’t be able to get a fair trial anywhere in New Jersey.

Prosecutor Kathy Flicker countered: ``Notorious cases are tried across the country and I’ve never heard of such a motion.″ She noted also that the trial has already been moved from Mercer County to Camden County because of heavy publicity.

Legal experts said Tuesday it’s a novel strategy _ but unlikely to work given the many details the public knows about Megan and her 1994 death.

``Given the intensity of the publicity, it’s going to be very difficult to disguise the true identity of the victim,″ said Alan Zegas, a lawyer who has represented alleged sex-offenders in closely watched cases and heads the Criminal Law Section of the New Jersey State Bar Association.

``If the jury feels that it’s being deceived, it could backfire″ on the defense, he added.

Authorities say Timmendequas, a twice-convicted child molester, lured neighbor Megan into the Hamilton Township home he shared with two other released sex offenders, then raped and killed her. His trial is set for Feb. 19.

Megan’s Law, passed in New Jersey a year ago, requires authorities to monitor sex offenders and to warn the community when an offender who might strike again moves in. Neighboring Pennsylvania and New York recently passed their own Megan’s Laws.

Megan’s parents bitterly attacked the idea of assigning them and their daughter aliases.

``My wife and I believe that now our rights are being violated with this motion,″ Richard Kanka said. ``Is this a true trial? Is he being tried at a fictitious trial, if everything’s going to be under an alias? The whole thing is nonsense.″

``Must Megan lose not only her life, but her name?″ Maureen Kanka told The Times of Trenton. ``It’s a total insult to my daughter.″

Howard Davidson, director of the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law in Washington, said a change of venue and careful questioning of prospective jurors are the way to ensure a fair trial.

``I really resent as a child advocate the concept of depersonalizing a child victim,″ he said. ``I can’t fathom what a judge’s instruction to the jury would be″ to explain the alias, he added.

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