SAN DIEGO - A convicted sex offender pleaded guilty Friday to killing a 17-year-old Poway High School senior and a 14-year-old Escondido High School freshman, and he was expected to be sentenced to two consecutive life prison terms without the possibility of parole.
John Albert Gardner III, 31, also faces an additional 33 years to life in prison for assaulting a woman Dec. 27.
Gardner, whose plea spares him from a possible death sentence, is scheduled to be sentenced June 1. His plea also bars him from filing an appeal of his conviction and sentence.
Gardner admitted attacking, raping and killing 17-year-old Chelsea King, who disappeared after going for a run Feb. 25 at Rancho Bernardo Community Park. The avid runner and straight-A student's body was discovered five days later in a shallow grave near a tributary of nearby Lake Hodges -- not far from Gardner's mother's home.
The defendant admitted attacking King while she was jogging, taking her to a remote area where he raped and strangled her and buried her in a shallow grave.
Gardner admitted that he killed King within an hour of attacking her. He also admitted killing 14-year-old Amber Dubois, who vanished while walking to Escondido High School in February 2009. Her skeletal remains were found last month in Pala.
Gardner admitted taking Dubois to Pala, where he raped and stabbed her before burying her in a shallow grave. The defendant said he killed Dubois with 90 minutes of his initial contact with her.
The defendant also pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a woman in Rancho Bernardo Community Park last Dec. 27.
Gardner entered his guilty pleas moments after prosecutors charged him with Dubois' murder and rape.
Before the defendant entered his pleas, Superior Court Judge David Danielsen informed Gardner that he would be spending the rest of his life in prison. Gardner will also be deemed a sexually violent predator. the judge told him.
Defense attorneys Michael Popkins and Mel Epley refused comment after the court hearing, but District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis briefed reporters on the reason Gardner was allowed to plead guilty.
''The murders of Chelsea King and Amber Dubois have shaken the collective soul of our community and beyond,'' she said.
Dumanis said that on March 5, three days after Gardner was arraigned on charges he murdered King, the defendant led authorities to Dubois' body.
The only promise made to Gardner, Dumanis said, was that the information could not be used against him in court.
No other evidence, including DNA, was found to tie Gardner to Dubois' murder, and prosecutors knew they couldn't make a case against the defendant, Dumanis said.
She said the death penalty was still on the table in the King case, but recently Gardner offered to plead guilty to both murders and admitted killing both girls and assaulting the woman in Rancho Bernardo Park.
''By accepting this guilty plea, we are obtaining a conviction for the murder of Amber that we would not otherwise have been able to obtain,'' Dumanis said.
Both the King and Dubois families agreed that accepting the defendant's offer to plead guilty was the best solution that could be attained, the district attorney said.
''We do know that a sentence of life without the possibility of parole means the defendant will die in prison,'' Dumanis said.
Maurice Dubois, Amber's father, thanked everyone in law enforcement who worked to find his daughter for more than a year.
''As you can imagine, this turn of events in the case came as a surprise to us when we were informed about the details yesterday,'' he said. ''As a parent, I am thankful for the work put forth by the D.A.'s office and the defense team in coming forth with a resolution in the case and allowing us to have justice and closure for Amber's case.''
Brent King, Chelsea's father, also made a brief statement to reporters. ''We stand here because of a despicable, evil act committed against our beautiful daughter, Chelsea, committed against our family and committed against our community,'' he said.
''The decision whether to give our blessing to the district attorney's proposal was torturous,'' King said. ''While our unequivocal first choice is the death penalty, we acknowledge that in California that penalty has become an empty promise.''
King said a multi-year court proceeding would have had a destructive effect on their 13-year-old son, Tyler.
The father also said his family's acceptance of the plea allowed them to help the grieving Dubois family.
''The Dubois family has been through unthinkable hell the past 14 months,'' Brent King said. ''We couldn't imagine the confession to Amber's murder never seeing the light of day, leaving an eternal question mark.''
King said now that there will be no trial, his family can move forward and bring about changes in the law to protect children.
''There is nothing satisfying about this moment,'' he said. ''It is only one more unbearably painful day that we will have to carry in our memory as long as we live.''
In 2000, Gardner was sentenced to six years in prison after pleading guilty to assaulting a 13-year-old girl at his mother's home. He was released after five years.
The District Attorney's Office said it offered Gardner a plea deal in that case to spare his young victim from testifying at trial. The offer came despite a psychiatrist's recommendation that Gardner receive the maximum sentence of 30 years in prison because he showed no remorse and would continue to be a threat to children.
(previous story follows)
Gardner scheduled for court hearing today; leaked document reports of clothing and digging tools found
SAN DIEGO - A sex offender charged with raping and killing a 17-year-old Poway High School senior is scheduled for court hearing today.
Court officials declined to comment on this afternoon's scheduled status conference for John Albert Gardner III, 31.
A gag order is in effect, but Los Angeles radio station KFI-AM 640 reported that authorities who searched Gardner's Lake Elsinore home seized some clothing and digging tools, such as pickaxes and shovels. The report was based on a leaked document.
Authorities also searched Gardner's mother's home in Rancho Bernardo, a storage unit in Escondido and a car belonging to Gardner's girlfriend, according to KFI.
Gardner was charged last month with sexually assaulting and murdering Chelsea King, who disappeared after going for a run Feb. 25 at Rancho Bernardo Community Park.
The avid runner and straight-A student's body was discovered five days later in a shallow grave near a tributary of nearby Lake Hodges -- not far from Gardner's mother's home.
Gardner is also charged with sexually assaulting a woman in the same park Dec. 27.
The defendant was sentenced to six years in prison in 2000 after pleading guilty to assaulting a 13-year-old girl at his mother's home. He was released after five years.
The District Attorney's Office said it offered Gardner a plea deal to spare his young victim from testifying at trial. The offer came despite a psychiatrist's recommendation that Gardner receive the maximum sentence of 30 years in prison because he showed no remorse and would continue to be a threat to children.
At the time of Gardner's arrest in the King case, authorities said he was a focus of the investigation into the apparent murder of 14-year-old Amber Dubois, whose skeletal remains were found last month in Pala.
The Escondido High School freshman vanished while walking to campus in February 2009.
Gardner could face the death penalty if convicted of King's murder. A preliminary hearing is scheduled Aug. 4.
Preliminary hearing date set for Gardner; possibly facing death penaltySAN DIEGO - An Aug. 4 preliminary hearing date was set today for a registered sex offender charged with the rape-murder of a Poway High School senior who vanished while running behind Rancho Bernardo Community Park.
John Albert Gardner III, 30, could face the death penalty if convicted of murder and a special circumstance allegation of murder during the commission of a rape or attempted rape.
District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis will decide after the August hearing whether Gardner will face the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole if he's convicted of killing Chelsea King.
Gardner was arrested Feb. 28 in connection with the 17-year-old cross-country runner's disappearance three days earlier. Her body was discovered March 2 in a shallow grave in a tributary of nearby Lake Hodges.
According to Escondido police, Gardner is also the focus of an investigation into the disappearance and murder of 14-year-old Amber Dubois, who went missing 13 months ago. Her skeletal remains were discovered in a remote area of Pala on Saturday.
Her father, Moe, attended today's hearing for Gardner and said he and Amber's mother, Carrie McGonigle, are the only people who represent the true feelings of their family.
The father was reacting to statements by others, including private investigator Bill Garcia, who said he was told that a tip that led investigators to Amber's body did not come from Gardner, who has not been charged in connection with the girl's death.
''The only spokesperson for Amber and Amber's family will be me or Carrie,'' he said.
Moe Dubois asked the media to use its resources toward finding missing children like Michael Guidry, who has been missing in San Diego since Thanksgiving.
''There are many other children in the area who do need your help and need your support,'' Dubois said. ''You have the power to bring these children home. Please use that power and attention on those children at this time.''
The father refused to answer questions on whether he thought Gardner was linked to his daughter's disappearance and murder.
At today's hearing, Judge David Danielsen signed a protective order barring attorneys and police involved with Gardner's case from releasing any information to the news media.
Gardner is also charged with sexually assaulting a Colorado woman who was running alone in Rancho Bernardo Community Park last Dec. 27.
According to public records, Gardner was convicted of assaulting and molesting a 13-year-old neighbor in 2000. The victim said he repeatedly punched her in the face and fondled her at his mother's townhouse, which is about a
mile from Rancho Bernardo Community Park. The girl said she went to the residence after Gardner invited her in to watch a movie.
Gardner was sentenced to six years in prison and served five before he was released in September 2005. He was on probation until 2008. He registered as a sex offender using his grandmother's Lake Elsinore address but reportedly
had been staying with his mother lately.
A probation report prepared for that sentencing was released today after Danielsen granted a request by the San Diego Union-Tribune and KGTV that it be unsealed and made available for public viewing.
Gardner in court today for status conference
SAN DIEGO - A registered sex offender who has been charged in the killing of 17-year-old Chelsea King and is the focus of an investigation into the death of 14-year-old Amber Dubois is scheduled to be in court today for a status conference.
John Albert Gardner III, 30, is charged with murder in the death of King, who disappeared Feb. 25 while running behind Rancho Bernardo Community Park. Her body was found five days later in a shallow grave near a tributary of Lake Hodges.
The charges against Gardner include a sentencing-enhancing allegation of murder during the commission of a rape or attempted rape. He could face the death penalty if convicted.
A decision on what penalty Gardner will face will be determined after a preliminary hearing, which is set for March 18 and is intended to help a judge determine if the evidence warrants ordering him to stand trial.
Gardner is also charged with sexually assaulting a woman in the same park Dec. 27.
Additionally, authorities in Escondido have said Gardner is the focus of their investigation into the disappearance and murder of Dubois, whose skeletal remains were found Saturday in Pala. Gardner has not been charged in Dubois' death.
The defendant was in court Monday after attorneys from the San Diego Union-Tribune asked a judge to unseal a probation report prepared for the defendant's 2000 sentencing for molesting a 13-year-old girl in the same area.
Judge David Danielsen ordered the report unsealed but suspended the order until Wednesday morning in case Gardner's attorneys wanted to appeal to his ruling.
Danielsen said he had to weigh the public's right to access court records versus the ''very significant'' right of the defendant to get a fair trial.
The judge said most, if not all, of the facts contained in the 2000 probation report have been disclosed already.
The report would normally be sealed, but if a person is charged with a subsequent crime, the law allows for it to be unsealed, the judge said.
In the 2000 case, the 13-year-old victim said Gardner repeatedly punched her in the face and fondled her at his mother's townhouse, which is about a mile from Rancho Bernardo Community Park.
Gardner subsequently pleaded guilty, was sentenced to six years in prison and was released in 2005. He was on probation until 2008 and registered as a sex offender using his grandmother's Lake Elsinore address, but he reportedly had been staying with his mother lately.
Defense attorney Mel Epley said his client was mentioned by authorities in connection with the the Dubois investigation and urged Danielsen to order law enforcement personnel, prosecutors, defense attorneys and court officials not to make any comment on the pending case. Danielsen said it wouldn't be appropriate for officials to comment.