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DV Pilot Police & Fire

Joan D’Alessandro’s mom finally exhales, as killer exhausts appeals

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

ONLY ON CLIFFVIEW PILOT: The wait is over for Rosemarie D’Alessandro. The healing can begin. That’s because the man who raped and killed her grade-school daughter 36 years ago will, in all likelihood, die behind bars. “It is a free feeling,” D’Alessandro told CLIFFVIEW PILOT after getting the news.

Joseph McGowan, who butchered the 7-year-old Girl Scout in 1973, had until Wednesday to appeal the state Parole Board’s spring ruling that he wait 30 years — about 18 after good-behavior deductions — before applying again for parole.

McGowan, now 63, didn’t appeal, all but guaranteeing he won’t touch another child.

D’Alessandro, who has fought tooth-and-nail for justice for more than three decades, called previous appeals of McGowan’s parole denials “a grain of sand in my shoe.

“And now I am free of that. I don’t have to fight like that anymore now,” she said. “Fighting for justice was very important to me, and this shows me that it can work. I went for what I believed in without revenge.”

McGowan, a former high school science teacher, was convicted of raping and murdering Joan D’Alessandro on April 19th, 1973 (Holy Thursday), before dumping her body in Harriman State Park, where it was found on Easter. McGowan lived three houses down in their Hillsdale neighborhood, and the youngster had come to his door looking to sell her last two boxes of Girl Scout cookies.

Her murder prompted the passage of Joan’s Law, signed by Gov. Christie Whitman in 1997 and by President Clinton in 1998. It law mandates life in prison for the killing of children under 14 during a sex crime.

Because the law was adopted after McGowan’s sentencing, it doesn’t apply to him. So D’Alessandro has had to relive the horror over and again with each new bid he made for parole — and, worse, with each appeal that followed the board’s denials.

Her determination, at times, was incredible. At other times, she could evoke pity — in the same way Megan Kanka’s mom can — for her all-consuming commitment.

As the near-finality of it all sunk in, Rosemarie D’Alessandro had no regrets for making this her life’s mission.

“Inside I knew great things were going to come out of Joan’s life because of the special energy she had, and has, and the fact that she was found on Easter Sunday,” D’Alessandro said. “This is what really drove me.

“I felt I knew why I was put on this earth.”

McGowan had 180 days to appeal the Parole Board’s early June decision. Because he didn’t, he must spend at least 18 more years in prison before there’s even a possibility of another hearing.

This relieves D’Alessandro and her family of the lengthy appeals process that followed prior parole decisions.

It took eight years for the courts to affirm McGowan’s denial in 1994. He was able to keep his bid alive by paying a lawyer with an inheritance. But that can’t happen now — thanks to D’Alessandro, who spearheaded the passage of New Jersey’s Justice for Victims Law, which allows a victim’s family to take all visible money.

D’Alessandro said she was overwhelmed by the 80,000 signatures collected and more than 7,000 letters sent to the Parole Board earlier this year. She also cited support for a foundation created in Joan’s name that helps the homeless, runaways, and abused youngsters.

With no more appeals to deal with, D’Alessandro said she’s looking forward to “sharing the journey” with others seeking similar justice.

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