5 Murder Cases That Inspired New Laws

Welcome to True Crime Tuesday where we review, recommend and generally obsess over everything crime-related.

The justice system is far from perfect. As the world changes, it can seem like there are a lot of outdated laws and issues that have no legal precedence. That means when a case comes up that doesn’t fit nicely into the existing legal framework, injustices can occur. But it’s also the perfect opportunity to develop new legislation, new laws, and new processes that can make a difference in the future.

Unfortunately, overhauling the entire justice system at once is impossible, and sometimes it takes a high profile case to jump start action and get things done. These 5 children died tragically, but the people they left behind were inspired to fight for better, more thorough laws, to hopefully prevent what happened to them, from happening to other children.

Amber Hagerman
When Amber Hagerman was kidnapped in Arlington, Texas on January 13, 1996, she was only 9 years old. She was out riding her bike with her brother when she was taken and a neighbour who witnessed the abduction called the police. Her body was found four days later less than five miles from where she had been taken. Amber’s parents established People Against Sex Offenders (P.A.S.O) and the Amber Hagerman Child Protection Act was drafted soon after which called for the establishment of a national sex offender registry.

Amber’s parents also advocated for new protocol to put in place for the crucial period of time right after a child has been abducted. The AMBER Alert, which is named after Amber Hagerman and also stands for “America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response” was born. It is now an internationally recognized system to inform the public a child is missing and provide crucial details so there are more eyes looking for both the child and the person that might have taken him or her.

Jacob Wetterling
Jacob Wetterling was 11 years old in 1989 when he was abducted in front of his friend and younger brother. His fate remained a mystery until 2016 when Danny Heinrich admitted to kidnapping and murdering him, and led police to his remains. After his abduction, Jacob’s parents formed the Jacob Wetterling Foundation, a group that worked to advocate for the safety of children. In 1994, the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act was passed.

The law was the first to require states to form registries of offenders convicted of sexually violent offences or offences against children. In 1996, the law was amended to include Megan’s Law, named after 7-year-old murder victim Megan Kanka. Megan’s Law required that sex offenders not only register as such, but that the community they lived in be notified of their presence. Megan was murdered by her next-door neighbour, a man who had already spent time in prison for sexually assaulting another young girl.

Adam Walsh
Adam Walsh was only 6 years old when he disappeared from a Sears department store in 1981. His severed head was found in a canal two weeks later and serial killer Ottis Toole later confessed to kidnapping and murdering Adam. His parents became advocates for stricter child safety laws and the U.S Congress passed the Missing Children’s Assistance Act in 1994. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children followed and has acted as a resource for parents, children, law enforcement, schools and communities to help in missing children cases by raising public awareness about how to prevent various crimes against children. Noreen Gosch (Johnny Gosch’s mother), John Walsh, and Pattie Wetterling (Jacob Wetterling’s mother) have all worked with the organization.

Code Adam, a protocol to help locate lost children in department schools was also developed and named in Adam’s memory. The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act which instituted a national database of child molesters and increased penalties for crimes against children, was signed into law in July 27, 2006.

Polly Klaas
Polly Klaas was 12 years old when she was kidnapped at knife point during a slumber party in 1993. An APB (all-points bulletin) was broadcast within 30 minutes, but it only went out on one channel, so many law enforcement officials didn’t hear it. Because of this, the man who took Polly got away. Almost two months later, a man named Richard Allen Davis was arrested. He confessed to kidnapping and murdering Polly and led police to her remains.

After her death, Polly’s father Marc became a child advocate and established the KlassKids Foundation which is devoted to preventing crimes against children. After he was sentenced to death, Richard Allen Davis’ previous criminal record became a catalyst for California to pass the “three-strikes law” or “habitual offender law”. The law dramatically increases punishment for people who have committed a third serious crime. On the third conviction, the offender will automatically receive a mandatory life in prison sentence.

Sherrice Iverson
On May 25, 1997, 7-year-old Sherrice Iverson was at Primadonna Resort and Casino in Primm, Nevada with her father. Her older brother was supposed to be watching her, but she was found by security wandering around alone multiple times before she crossed paths with 19-year-old Jeremy Strohmeyer. Strohmeyer followed Sherrice into a women’s bathroom where he molested and murdered her. He was arrested three days later after being identified on security footage. He confessed and was charged with first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping, and sexual assault of a minor, all for which he plead guilty.

If that wasn’t all bad enough, there was a witness to the crime. Strohmeyer’s friend David Cash actually walked into the bathroom and saw what Strohmeyer was doing to Sherrice, but instead of stopping him, he just turned back around and left them alone, telling no one. Sherrice’s mother demanded that Cash be charged as an accessory but police said there wasn’t enough evidence to do so. Cash told the Los Angeles Times “I’m not going to get upset over somebody else’s life. I just worry about myself first. I’m not going to lose sleep over somebody else’s problems.” He was labeled “the bad Samaritan” in the media and even talked about making money off his role in the crime.

Sherrice’s murder led to a number of bills including the Nevada State Assembly Bill 267 which requires people to report any reasonable suspicions that a child younger than 18 is being sexually abused. Failure to do so could come with a fine and possible jail time. The Sherrice Iverson Child Victim Protection Act was also passed which requires a witness to notify police if they witness a murder, rape, or any lewd or lascivious act against a victim under 14.

Courtney Hardwick

Courtney Hardwick

Courtney Hardwick is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared on AmongMen.com, 29secrets.com, therichest.com, and ELLECanada.com.  When she isn’t writing about relationships, and the best TV shows and books you should really already know about, she is working on her novel. She hopes to have it published by 2025. You can follow her on Twitter @Courtooo.

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