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Journal News: Mike Lawler backs federal bill to ban parole for killers of sex assault victims under 18

Key Points
  • The bill is called the 'Paula Bohovesky and Joan D'Alessandro Act.'
  • The bill would extend the current law that bans parole if a murder victim is 14 or younger.
  • A murderer couldn't win release if the charge involved a sexual offense against a victim under age 18.

Two notorious Hudson Valley murders decades ago have fostered another push to extend a federal parole ban for anyone who sexually assaulted and killed a child.

U.S. Rep. Mike Lawler has introduced HR 8587 in the House that would extend a current law that bans parole if the victim is 14 or under to excluding any chance of parole if a victim is under age 18.

The bill carries two names familiar with Rockland County in New York and Bergen County in New Jersey:

  • Paula Bohovesky, who was 16 when she was killed as she walked home from her after-high school job at the Pearl River Library. She was beaten and stabbed by two men who spent the day drinking in a local bar. The 1980 murder took place a block from Paula's house.
  • Joan D'Alessandro, a 7-year-old who was selling Girl Scout cookies in her Hillsdale, New Jersey, neighborhood. She was sexually attacked and murdered in the spring of 1973 by her neighbor, a teacher at Tappan Zee High School. Her body was found days later at the edge of Harriman State Park in Stony Point. 

The bill is similar to one Lawler, a Republican who now represents the 17th District in the U.S. House of Representatives, pushed in New York when he was a member of the state Assembly. That legislation did not advance.

Expands existing federal codes

The federal legislation would add to existing federal code that bans parole for anyone who sexually assaults and kills a victim who is under age 14. The bill would add: "or if the victim has not attained the age of 18 years if the charge involved a sexual offense."

For decades now, New York and New Jersey have had versions of Joan's Law, which bans parole if a victim age 14 and under is sexually assaulted and killed. In New Jersey, unlike New York, Joan's Law was updated in 2017 to address victims under 18.

“The bipartisan Paula Bohovesky and Joan D’Alessandro Act will put in place penalties at the federal level that will ensure no family has to endure the pain of seeing their child’s tormentor released from prison,” Lawler said in a statement.

A similar bill hasn't been introduced in the U.S. Senate. In the House, the bill is now in the Judicial Committee.

The cases now

Even though New Jersey had enacted Joan's Law in 1997 and expanded it in 2017, the little girl's killer could still continue seeking parole.

John McGowan was a chemistry teacher at Tappan Zee High School. Joan, a 7-year-old Girl Scout, went to sell him cookies at his house, just across the way from the D'Alessandro home in a tight-knit Hillsdale, New Jersey neighborhood. He grabbed her and she was dead within minutes. That was on Holy Thursday. McGowan then drove up to Stony Point and dumped her body at the edge of Harriman State Park. Her body was discovered on Easter Sunday.

McGowan is one of four killers profiled in the book "The Killer Across The Table," written by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker. They also wrote the popular book "Mindhunter," which is the basis for a Netflix series of the same name. Even though he had killed just once, the authors firmly believed McGowan was a serial killer who just lacked opportunity.

Numerous parole attempts failed before McGowan died in prison in June 2021. He was due for another parole attempt in 2025.

Bohovesky's two convicted killers made parole:

  • Robert LaBarbera had originally been paroled in 2019, but was back in prison less than three weeks later after authorities learned he violated his parole by getting drunk. He was paroled again in 2020, under New York City supervision. Now 71, he was discharged from parole in July 2023.
  • Richard McCain was paroled in 2021. Now 63, he remains under parole supervision in New Rochelle.

"I'm more afraid for all the young women walking around," Lois Bohovesky said in 2021, reflecting on both killers' release. "If they did it again, my God!"