Authorities missed many chances to re-imprison sex offender and save Chelsea King and Amber Dubois
Authorities missed dozens of parole violations that would have sent registered sex offender John Albert Gardner III back to prison and kept him from raping and murdering two teenage girls in northern San Diego County, according to a report released Wednesday by the inspector general of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Among other violations, Gardner visited the grounds of a state prison in 2008, a felony that could have brought a life sentence as a third strike, the report said.
Also, a review of the data from the GPS device that Gardner was required to wear shows that on 158 occasions in a 13-month period he violated his parole by going near schools, leaving home after curfew or visiting a storage facility.
Gardner, 31, served five years in prison for attacking a 13-year-old girl before being released in 2005. As a registered sex offender, he was required to abide by a lengthy set of rules about where he could live or visit -- all meant to keep him away from potential victims.
On May 14, Gardner was sentenced to life in prison without parole after pleading guilty to the Feb. 13, 2009, murder of 14-year-old Amber Dubois and the Feb. 25, 2010, murder of 17-year-old Chelsea King.
Dubois was kidnapped while walking to class at Escondido High School; King, an honor student at Poway High School, was attacked while jogging near Lake Hodges.
Among other deficiencies, the report notes that until recently, parole agents were not required to check GPS data to see if parolees were abiding by the rules. Although those procedures have been changed, the process remains cumbersome and the policy changes “still fall short of the department’s goal of aggressively monitoring all sexual offender parolees.”
The shortcomings uncovered in how Gardner was supervised show “systemic problems that transcend Gardner’s case.”
The murders have led to calls from both families for toughening standards on convicted sexual predators. A bill dubbed “Chelsea’s Law,” written by Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher (R-San Diego) and supported by Gov. Schwarzenegger, would call for life sentences for offenders convicted of sexually assaulting minors.
In 2008, Gardner visited the grounds of Donovan State Prison in Otay Mesa. In an interview after his conviction for the murders, he told investigators that he was taking a friend to visit an inmate but never entered the prison, although being on the grounds would still constitute a felony that could have been prosecuted by the district attorney.
Gardner was spared the death penalty under a plea bargain. Dist. Atty. Bonnie Dumanis said that without his guilty plea, her office would not have had enough evidence to prosecute him for the Dubois murder.
Gardner was linked to the King murder by a pair of her underwear with his semen on it. Arrested for King’s murder, he offered to take authorities to the spot northeast of Escondido where he had buried Dubois as long as that admission was not used against him in court.
In addition to the Dubois and King murders, Gardner pleaded guilty to attacking Candice Mancayo, 23, who escaped by punching him in the nose.
"Successful prosecution of Gardner's crime (going to the prison grounds) and administrative action in response to his parole violations would have sent Gardner back to prison, making it impossible for him to murder the two young girls and commit the attempted sexual assault," said the report by David R. Shaw, the correction department's inspector general.
Fletcher said the report "confirms what we all know: California's public safety system is in desperate need of reform. From our criminal sentencing structure all the way to our parole system, dangerous sex offenders have slipped through the cracks."
-- Tony Perry in San Diego
Photo: John Albert Gardner III in San Diego County Superior Court. Credit: Associated Press