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Joan D'Alessandro
Rosemarie and Joan D'Alessandro

On Thursday, April 19, 1973 Joan D'Alessandro, a joyful, brave, seven-year-old Brownie Scout was delivering Girl Scout cookies to her neighbor when she disappeared. A high school chemistry teacher who lived three doors down later plead guilty to her murder. After Joan was sexually assaulted and murdered, the Girl Scouts changed their rules for all children to prevent another such tragedy.

When Joan's killer became eligible for parole in 1993 her mother, Rosemarie D'Alessandro, organized a letter writing, green ribbon campaign that led officials to deny the parole. The green ribbon is Joan's favorite color. It symbolizes: Remember Joan Today So Tomorrow's Children Will Be Safe. The idea that a child murderer could be released from prison spurred Rosemarie to work for passage of a mandatory no parole sentencing law. After 3 years of lobbying, a bill denying the possibility of parole to offenders who murder while committing a sex crime was passed by the New Jersey Legislature in April 1997. Following that victory, Rosemarie spearheaded a successful campaign for a federal version of Joan's Law, which was signed by President Bill Clinton in October 1998. All the while her daughter's killer continued to file appeals to his sentence paid for by a sizeable inheritance. This led Rosemarie to protect victims by designing a bill eliminating New Jersey's two-year Statute of Limitations on suing murderers, which passed in November 2000. Then, after four years of activism, Joan's Law became the law in New York State in 2004. Her sons Michael and John, born after Joan was murdered, had also been advocates for the legislation. In addition to her legislative efforts, Rosemarie reaches out to abused and neglected children through The Joan Angela D'Alessandro Memorial Foundation she established in 1998. In 2004 she received the Attorney General's Special Courage Award for her efforts.

Joseph McGowan received a sentence that would make him eligible for parole after serving 14 years. Because Joan's Law is not retroactive, he has been eligible for parole four times, the last time being January 2009. After a nine-month effort led by Joan's mother which involved the collection of 80,000 personal signatures as well as 7,000 letters and two rallies at the New Jersey State House, he received a 30-year term on June 11, 2009. The 30-year term actually means 18 years because of mandatory credits. The movement continues as it unites communities to protect all children and keep child killers in prison.

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