Hillsdale woman advocates for new amendments to Joan’s Law

Evan Jones, Staff Writer

Joan’s Law, signed in New Jersey in 1997, is meant to protect minors from murders involving sexual violence.

The main advocate for the law was Hillsdale resident Rosemarie D’Alessandro. D’Alessandro’s daughter, Joan, was the victim of such a crime in 1973. On Holy Thursday, Joan, a girl scout, went to a neighbor’s house to sell cookies and was found dead three days later on Easter Sunday.

The case wasn’t in the public view. So I met with legislators and the media to gain support.”

— Rosemarie D'Alessandro

At the time, the killer was sentenced to life in prison. However, twenty years later, in 1993, he became eligible for parole.

“In 1993, when the killer came up for parole a second time, that’s when advocacy for Joan’s Law started,” explained D’Alessandro.

In order to prevent those sentenced from being eligible for parole, D’Alessandro began her quest to create new legislature. In her daughter’s name, Joan’s Law was the result.

“The case wasn’t in the public view,” said D’Alessandro, regarding the parole hearing of her daughter’s killer, “So I met with legislators and the media to gain support.”

The fight peaked when D’Alessandro appeared on the Today Show to share her story and speak to people across the country.

Following the passage of Joan’s Law in New Jersey in 1997, those who were prosecuted of such crimes would receive sentences between 30 years and life in imprisonment. But the minimum requirement to be eligible for parole was changed to 30 years in prison.

Jump to 2016 and D’Alessandro is again pushing for new legislation, this time for an amendment to Joan’s Law. The law passed in 1997 can only be administered if the victim is 14 years old or younger. D’Alessandro’s new goal is to have the age range of the law broadened.

Many local newspapers picked up on D'Alessandro's story.
Kyle Comito
Many local newspapers picked up on D’Alessandro’s story.

“The proposed amendment would cover children up to 18 years old,” said D’Alessandro of her proposed amendment. “Protecting high schoolers is very important.”

While D’Alessandro has been advocating since 2010 for this particular amendment, it has not yet passed in the state government. But she is confident that it will eventually pass, as she has already made plans for a signature ceremony in the garden dedicated to her daughter.

“The goal is to have Governor Chris Christie come to the garden to sign the amendment, if it passes,” D’Alessandro said proudly.

The garden D’Alessandro references is located in the center of Hillsdale, near the train station in Joan’s honor. Completed in June of 2015, the garden is comprised of many flowers and shrubbery, as well as benches and a monument. When visiting, the theme of butterflies throughout the garden is immediately noticeable.

“The butterfly is a symbol of hope and a symbol of Joan,” explained her mother, Rosemarie, “Bringing attention to the garden and its mission are important.”

To learn more about Joan’s Law, visit Joan’s Joy. Also, Joan’s Garden is always open in the middle of Hillsdale to go visit and admire the butterflies.