New Jersey has become the 46th state to enact a law toughening penalties for sex offenders who prey on children.

Jessica Lunsford Act ceremonial bill signing
Jessica Lunsford Act ceremonial bill signing (From Left to Right: Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, Sen. Diane Allen, Mark Lunsford, Gov. Chris Christie)

Gov. Chris Christie signed the law known as the "Jessica Lunsford Act," which imposes mandatory 25-year terms without parole for anyone convicted of assaulting a child younger than 13.

"Today, we are ensuring justice is served," said Christie. "The law will ensure that those individuals who commit unthinkable crimes and prey upon the innocence and vulnerability of our children are given the punishment that they have so richly earned."

The law is named for 9-year-old Florida resident Jessica Lunsford, who was  kidnapped, raped and murdered in 2005 by a two-time convicted sex offender.  Her father Mark Lunsford joined Christie for Monday's ceremonial bill signing.

"Today marks the day that New Jersey begins changing the landscape on how we deal 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.

Sen. Diane Allen (R-Burlington), who introduced the legislation in 2006, called the people that commit these crimes "monsters," and that keeping child predators in our prisons longer sends a message that these types of crimes won't be tolerated.

"Our children in New Jersey are safer tonight. We've spent many years when that wasn't the case," Allen said.

The late Assemblyman Eric Munoz also introduced his version of the measure nine years ago. His wife has taken his place in the legislature and was also at the bill signing.

"My husband Eric flew Mark Lunsford up here in the spring of 2005 and he made a promise to him that we will get this passed and Eric always kept his promises," said Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz (R-Summit). "When Eric died I took over for him and the very first piece of legislation that I picked up was this bill."

Prosecutors would be permitted to negotiate a 15-year sentence to keep some victims from having to testify.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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