TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- The father of a Florida rape and murder victim, whose death led 44 states to enact stricter sex offender laws, was in New Jersey on Monday to encourage passage of a law imposing mandatory minimum sentences on child predators and anyone convicted of aiding them.
Mark Lunsford is pushing for enactment of the "Jessica Lunsford Act,'' which would impose a mandatory 25-year term without parole for anyone convicted of sexually assaulting a child younger than 13. Anyone who hinders their apprehension or prosecution would face three years behind bars.
"There is no reason for anyone to put their hands on these children and to receive minimum sentences and probation -- it's hard time, 25 years,'' Lunsford said. "These are our children, our youngest children, and we have to do more to protect them.''
New Jersey's bill and similar legislation across the country is named for Lunsford's 9-year-old daughter, who was, kidnapped raped and buried alive in Florida in 2005 by a convicted sex offender. Jessica's laws are intended to reduce a sex offender's ability to re-offend.
The Assembly sponsor, Republican Nancy Munoz of Summit, said 54 colleagues have signed onto the bill. The legislation, first introduced in 2005, awaits a hearing in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
In the Senate, the bill is sponsored by Republican Diane Allen of Burlington. The bill has yet to be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Both houses of the Legislature would have to pass the bill and it would have to be signed by Gov. Chris Christie in order to become law.
"It just is amazing to me that we haven't passed this law. Our children are not as safe as the children in most other states,'' Allen said. "I worry if we don't get it done this year, how many children are we going to lose? I don't know but even one is too many.''
Allen said those who commit sex crimes against children are far more likely than other offenders to commit a similar crime again. She said 40 percent are charged with a similar crime within a year of being released.
Rosemarie D'Alessandro of Hillsdale, whose 7-year-old daughter, Joan, was raped and murdered by a neighbor while delivering Girl Scout cookies in 1973, has teamed up with Lunsford to advocate for the harsher sentencing law.
"Mark and I are trying to make something good out of something so horrible that our minds can't even go there,'' she said. "What we're doing is keeping our children alive in every way possible -- their energy goes on, their legacy goes on in helping people and helping society.''
Lunsford's daughter was killed by twice-convicted sex offender John Evander Couey, who died of natural causes while awaiting execution. D'Alessandro's daughter was killed by former chemistry teacher Joseph McGowan, who remains in prison in part because of the compelling testimony of the victim's mother, who has been heard at each of McGowan's parole hearings.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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