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Neighbor arrested in Megan's Law vigilante case

7-1-1998 New Jersey:
LINDEN, N.J. (AP) -- Soon after Jimmy Johnson received a flier notifying him that a high-risk sex offender lived in the neighborhood, he shot a gun five times into the house where the man lived, police and a family friend said.

Johnson, 23, was charged Tuesday with aggravated assault and weapons offenses in the June 16 shooting of sex offender Frank Penna's home.

No one was injured in the shooting.

"A lot of children are in this neighborhood, and he doesn't want anything to happen to these children," said family friend Ramone Hamilton. "He did something that he felt was right."

After hours of questioning at the police department Tuesday, Johnson eventually confessed to firing five bullets into Penna's home, said Police Detective Frank Leporino.

The bullets pierced windows and walls of an upstairs apartment, some nearly hitting a woman living there.

Johnson was held on $150,000 bail at the Union County Jail and was to appear in court on Thursday or Friday.

Penna, 55, had lived in the basement of his childhood home since 1992, after he was paroled from a 99-year sentence for raping two teen-age girls in the 1970s. Neighbors were notified in fliers in early June that he was a high-risk sex offender.

Megan's Law, passed in 1995, is named after Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old New Jersey girl raped and killed by her neighbor. It requires authorities to notify neighbors when a high-risk sex offender is living nearby.

The law's notification provision has been challenged in state and federal courts by critics who say it amounts to extra punishment and invades the sex offenders' privacy. A federal appeals court upheld the law in August and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal this year.

Attorney General Peter Verniero condemned vigilante attacks but defended the law at a news conference on Tuesday.

"Megan's Law is not about violence or retribution," Verniero said. "The law's purpose is to inform those most vulnerable so they might take lawful steps to protect themselves."

Authorities have said the shooting was a Megan's Law vigilante case, but have refused to say what evidence they have. ..more.. by News-Star

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