New Jersey toughens penalties for sexual attacks on kids

 Mark Lunsford speaks at the New Jersey State House during the signing ceremony for Jessica's Law, named after his daughter who was raped and murdered in Florida. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

Mark Lunsford speaks at the New Jersey State House during the signing ceremony for Jessica's Law, named after his daughter who was raped and murdered in Florida. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

New Jersey has become the 46th state to tougher penalties for sex offenders who attack children.

Gov. Chris Christie Monday signed legislation known as the Jessica Lunsford Act, named for a 9-year-old Florida girl who was abducted, raped, and murdered by a twice-convicted sex offender.

The victim’s father, Mark Lunsford, said the law shows New Jersey is changing how it deals with crimes against children.

“Today is the day that New Jersey says that we’re turning the tables and instead of you stalking our children, we’re stalking you,” Lunsford said following a signing ceremony at the State House in Trenton.

The new law mandates a 25-year-to-life prison term for aggravated sexual assault of a child younger than 13, Christie said. Prosecutors would have the flexibility to negotiate a 15-year minimum but only if a plea is in the best interest of the victim.

“The law will ensure those individuals who commit unthinkable crimes and prey on the innocence and vulnerability of our children are given the punishment that they have so richly earned,” the governor said.

Supporters say they’ll push for such a law in the four remaining states that have not yet enacted a version of it.

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