Still grieving 43 years later: ‘Joan’s Law’ mom wants to protect more kids from predators

Dino Flammia, New Jersey 101.5

The brutal murder of 7-year-old Joan D’Alessandro of Bergen County, more than 40 years ago, is still a topic of discussion under the gold dome in Trenton.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, along with the young victim’s mother, are looking to modify a law named after Joan that was signed by Gov. Christie Whitman in 1997.

Currently, Joan’s Law offers no chance at parole for those who are convicted of killing someone under the age of 14 while in the course of committing a sex crime.

With this revision, the law would apply to any victim under the age of 18.

“A minor is a minor, and they should be covered under this legislation, regardless of the age,” said Democratic Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, a sponsor of the measure that cleared an Assembly panel on Monday. “And the crimes are atrocious, regardless of the victim’s age.”

Joan was raped and killed by her neighbor in Hillsdale while delivering Girl Scout cookies in 1973. Her body was found three days later on Easter Sunday at a state park in New York.

Now, Rosemarie D’Alessandro, Joan’s mother, has to witness a parole hearing for her daughter’s killer every so often.
“Under 18 is what culprits go after,” D’Alessandro told New Jersey 101.5. “We have to get this done for all kids.”

The current law, and even the revision, couldn’t directly help D’Alessandro, but she said it can provide some solace to any parents who may experience a similar tragedy in the future.

“The bill is a sign of hope for society,” she said. “Even though Joan lived 7-and-a-half years, she truly lived and made me a better person. I didn’t even know how much she inspired me until I started doing this work.”

Shortly after Joan’s Law was passed, a federal version was signed by President Bill Clinton.