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Gardner press conference yields few new details

Now that John Gardner has been convicted and sentenced to three life terms in prison for Chelsea King and Amber Dubois murders, the San Diego law enforcement community held a collective press conference to answer questions from the media. While many questions were asked, reporters were left with confirmation on details dug up during the investigative phase of the double murder and rape cases.

Details that stood out included acknowledgment that Gardner was taken out of county jail on a field trip to point out where he buried Amber Dubois’ body. Authorities say the excursion lasted approximately three hours. During this time there was another search in Escondido at Kit Carson Park and the media speculated this was a ruse to keep press away from the recovery of Amber’s remains that however was dispelled by the Escondido Police Department.

Law enforcement representatives at the press conference invoked Marcy’s Law several times to prevent the media from the gory details that are protected under the California law. This law ensures victims’ families are reasonably shielded from gruesome details that could cause undo stress and privacy issues.

The only family members at the press conference were Amber’s father Moe Dubois and his girlfriend. (Amber’s mother was in New York talking to Good Morning America.)

The King family chose not to attend and submitted a statement through their attorneys Luce Forward. The statement read in part, “we continue to advocate for the preservation of Chelsea’s dignity and prevention of further trauma to her family… To preserve those rights, we have made written request to all involved agencies not to voluntarily disclosure or discuss the crime scene photographs that depict Chelsea, any sexual assault examination reports or photographs by the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s office regarding Chelsea.”

The King family further explains that the community has suffered enough and only seeks the opportunity to grieve and heal in the coming months. “The perpetrator has been captured, confessed to his crimes and shortly will be sent to prison for life. It is time for healing, not a time to unearth painful details made irrelevant by the defendant’s decision to admit his crimes,” the statement concluded.

It’s true the perpetrator has been caught but in order to prevent future breakdowns in law enforcement investigations they must garner all the relevant information. It is clear there were a number of breakdowns along the way and currently the bull’s-eye lands on the San Diego Police Department.

The SDPD handled jogger Candice Moncayo’s attack in the same Rancho Bernardo park just weeks earlier in late December. Little was gleaned from this police report and SDPD Capt. Jim Collins offered nothing new.

The attack was classified as a robbery, even though Moncayo was tackled, told her attacker ‘you’ll have to kill if you want to rape me.’ Gardner replied, “That can be arranged.” Before Moncayo was able to break free, she elbowed Gardner in the nose and then he apparently asked for money.

Again this took place in an isolated location and female joggers usually do not carry cash while running. Moncayo herself said she thought it was an attempted rape.

However, the jogger was able to fight off her attacker and reported that she elbowed her assailant in the face most likely breaking his nose- this self-defense gave her an opportunity to run for her life.

The San Diego Police Department was called to investigate the scene and after interviewing the victim concluded it was a failed robbery.

“A failed robbery? How many women go jogging in a county park carrying a purse, computer, camera and cash? Anyone with common sense knows something like would take place at a car or home,” says Poway resident Carry who wished to protect her last name.

The jogging victim’s mother found the outcome odd as well. She reported that her daughter was tackled like a football player and a large man fitting Gardner’s description tried to aggressively subdue her daughter.

This where the communication break downs begin. San Diego Police Department was convinced the female was a victim of a robbery attempt because at some point during the attack he asked for money. Not many women are buying that excuse.

According to Moncayo who was attacked on Dec. 27th, she wanted to sit down with a police sketch artist to create a composite drawing of her attacker; the SDPD was too busy to follow through with her request. However, the female returned home to her Colorado home and was able to get a local Police Dept. to draw a sketch. The likeness to Gardner is astonishing.

“There’s a lot of frustration and anger out there right now,” said Gary Carlson the Rancho Bernardo neighborhood watch coordinator. “The San Diego Police Department did not personally notify us after the Dec. 27th attack occurred. It was a failure in communications that the attack was classified as a simple robbery on the crime log.”

According to Carlson, recent cutbacks in community spending may have been a factor in the SDPD not reaching out to community leaders sooner. Had the Police Department notified community leader an action plan would have been implemented.

“First, we would have notified all of our district leaders who would bring neighbors up to speed. The community would have mobilized and put together fliers to post at local businesses, entrances to the park as well as post fliers door-to-door.”

Finally, the Rancho Bernardo Neighborhood Watch group would have posted information on their website and been in constant contact with law enforcement officers monitoring the case progress.

“Hind sight is 20/20, but I can say we would have been proactive,” Carlson said.

Moving forward Carlson believes the police and community can learn from this tragedy and figure out a communication system that will provide a timely alert mechanism for future incidents that may arise.

Collins went on to explain the Moncayo attack lasted no more than 30 seconds and acknowledged the DNA obtained from Moncayo’s elbow sat on the DNA labs shelf until Gardner was arrested for Chelsea’s murder.

Yet when asked about the current county backlog on DNA, Collins said there was a two to three week wait. However, the DNA labs admit the wait is many months and in some of the rape kits cases the wait is well over a year.

If the Moncayo case was handled differently, perhaps, Chelsea would be alive today, community residents speculated.

When discussion turned to the death penalty, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis repeated the office line that “the death penalty is a hollow promise in California.” However she only admitted Gardner’s public defender was the one who requested that the death penalty be taken off the table when pressed further by reporters. The end result led law enforcement officials to Ambers remains in Pala California about 30 minutes north of her home.

In the end all the explanations will not bring back Amber or Chelsea home and the community is no closer to knowing how the mind of criminal psychopath Gardner works, but Kristen Spieler, deputy district attorney who handled the legal prosecution summed it up best. “The defect was not in his mind, it was in his character.”

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Gardner sentenced for the murder of two San Diego teenagers that rocked San Diego

John Gardner was convicted and sentenced for the murder and rape of two San Diego teenagers as well as the attempted rape of a college jogger. Gardner received two life sentences with out the possibility of parole for the murders and another 25 years for the attempted rape of the jogger- all to be served concurrently.

While the details of Gardner’s life may be certain, the healing process is just beginning for the families who lost their daughters in a brutal and senseless manner.

From the onset it was clear Gardner was agitated and knew the wrath of words he would have to listen to as each parent approached the podium and expressed what anger they felt for someone who wasn’t of this life.

The biggest reaction Gardner displayed came from hearing Amber’s mom Carrie McGonigle, he literally broke down and crocodile tears streamed down his face. McGonigle expressed distain for Gardner’s actions, but ended with “I forgive you, but I will never forget that you stole my daughter from me.”

During the hour-long proceeding, two videos were played showing Amber and Chelsea in much happier times, Gardner never looked up. It appeared to attendees that if he watched it would mean he was capable of savagely murdering two young girls.

The female jogger, Candice Moncayo, who was attacked in December and threw her elbow to Gardner’s face giving her enough time to run away also spoke about the fact he stole her “safety and solitude of her runs.” She left the podium with a fitting question; “ how’s your nose?”

The King family had the harshest words for Gardner and his mother, who failed to register her son’s address and did nothing to contact authorities in the past 14 months.

Chelsea’s father, Brent, used words like “zest for life, extremely smart and self-assured,” to describe his 17-year-old daughter. He talked about the college letters that have been arriving in the mail for Chelsea and she would never attend. He explained that he never knew he had this kind of rage inside him for another human being.

On the other hand Chelsea’s mom, Kelly, demanded Gardner to look at her while she spoke. “You have taken a life worth an infinite amount of yours.” She told Gardner that he “plundered” from their family and was responsible for “dismantling’ their family life.

Again Kelly repeated; “look at me!” She then said she was not surprised by Gardner’s lack of eye contact. And she too blamed Gardner’s mother for not doing enough to protect the world from her monster of a son.

Amber Dubois’s father, Moe, told the court his daughter was raped and killed by a registered sex offender and he blamed the legal system for letting the murderer roam the streets of Escondido after his parole expired.

According to a victim-impact statement Dubois, says Gardner served a six-year prison sentence for sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl in 2000, but was off parole and roaming freely when he raped and murdered Amber.

Dubois pointed out that once Gardner was off parole, his GPS device was removed and was “once again this predator was allowed to stalk our streets,”

“Less than five months later, John Gardner forcefully abducted, brutally beat, physically raped and then finally heartlessly murdered and discarded our beautiful 14-year-old daughter,” Dubois said.

After a face-to face jail visit with Gardner yesterday, Amber’s mother, Carrie McGonigle, said she found some closure.

Last month McGonigle said she wanted to know the details from Gardner. “I want to know as her mom, but I think the community and law enforcement also has to know, how did this guy get Amber,” she said in April. “How do we protect our kids from someone like him?”

However, Moe Dubois said the missed opportunities to protect the community from Gardner allowed a “monster” to walk the streets looking for vulnerable young girls.

“Now, with our last hope for justice, we depend on the prison community to slowly and painfully cause (Gardner’s) remaining days on this earth to be a living nightmare, and I truly hope he suffers a hundred times the amount of pain he caused our family’s,” Moe Dubois said in his statement to the court. “`He will burn in hell for the acts he committed, I just hope that day is an agonizingly long way away and that he will have to suffer as much as we all have, actually more.”

The 14-year-old Amber Dubois went missing in February 2009. However, her body wasn’t found until two months ago. In an offer of life over death Gardner took authorities to a remote part of Pala where he discarded Amber’s remains.

The murder may have gone unsolved if Gardner was not arrested for the rape and murder of 17-year-old Chelsea King, a Poway High School senior.

Escondido Police Chief, Jim Maher said the Dubois case was just two weeks away from being placed in the cold case department.

King disappeared at the end of February while she went for an after-school run at Rancho Bernardo Community Park. It would be only three days later that Gardner was arraigned for her murder, and that he agreed to lead authorities to Amber’s body in Pala.

Looking ahead Moe Dubois says he is working with lawmakers to develop laws that will help authorities respond more quickly when children are taken. He will unveil details on May 25, coinciding with National Missing Children’s Day. Other ideas in the new program include requiring child predators to have special driver’s licenses.

On a side note, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger directed his administration to take action on recommendations made by the Sex Offender Management Board after a thorough review of the John Albert Gardner case.

Schwarzenegger said he directed the board to review the Gardner case and determine where systematic improvements could be made to protect communities.

The department will award contracts for a pilot program to treat designated sex offenders on parole as part of a containment model strategy and attempt to make more records available to the public, Schwarzenegger said.

As the doors closed on the courtroom, Gardner’s fate was sealed. Trying to make sense of all this seems impossible for outsiders looking in. However, Kelly King’s words echoed in the background; “Come on mom we have to get up, we have important things to do mom, very important.”

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Gardner pleads guilty to murder of 2 San Diego teenagers

John Gardner pleads guilty to all charges for Amber Dubois and Chelsea King murders on Friday afternoon in a San Diego. In return the sexual predator will not face the death penalty.

The plea agreement states Gardner will get life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Amber Dubois, 14, went missing in February of 2009 and her body was recovered after Chelsea King’s murder took place in March of this year. Gardner was believed to be the killer of the Dubois case after DNA evidence linked the sexual predator to the King murder.

There has been speculation that Gardner was taken out of jail to show investigators the location of Dubois’ body in order to receive life in prison instead of the death penalty. Authorities also report Gardner is the potential perpetrator of other missing girls in Southern California.

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San Diego Police Dodge a DNA bullet

San Diego Police Department dodged a potentially explosive public relations bullet when it was determined that John Gardner’s DNA was not found on the swab taken from a female “robbery” victim, Candice Moncayo, who was assaulted on December 27, 2009 in Rancho Bernardo Community Park following the homicide of Chelsea King last month.

Local law enforcement agencies failed to test the DNA swab taken from the jogger for more than two months between the December 27 incident and the weekend that Chelsea King went missing.

The SDPD brass must have breathed a collective sigh of relief when the DNA test came back negative.

“Had John Gardner’s DNA been found on the swab taken on December 27, it could have been matched to his profile in the National DNA database and Gardner may have been arrested for the “robbery” which could have prevented the murder of Chelsea King,” authorities said.

Several attempts have been made to determine the DNA backlog in San Diego County Crime Laboratory for this story, only to be denied by San Diego Sheriff’s officials. The Sheriff’s Department claims there are no records readily available to provide documents on the DNA backlog San Diego County.

However, a document recovered from the County of Supervisors office paints a different story. The Sheriff’s Department applied for a Federal Stimulus grant to alleviate the DNA backlog on December 5, 2009, according to the public records.

The nearly $400,000 in federal grant money received from the Department of Justice is to be used for equipment, supplies and overtime expenses to alleviate the current DNA backlog.

Why the reluctance to release DNA data?

Crime labs continue to fall behind due to a number of new laws enacted by states to protect the public at large. In California, records found the backlog at the state crime lab jumped from 35,000 in January of 2008 and almost 46,000 in February 2009 records.

Even President Obama has weighed in on mandatory DNA testing as a way to solve cold cases and protecting the public. “It’s the right thing to do to tighten the grip around folks who commit crime,” Obama told John Walsh of America’s Most Wanted.

Obama told Walsh he supported compulsory DNA sampling of suspects under arrest by the federal government for misdemeanors and felonies. The results would be housed in the state and federal databases. There have been more than 200 arrests nationwide using the results from those DNA tests.

Meanwhile in liberal California the ACLU is suing to block its voter-approved measure requiring saliva sampling of criminals picked-up for felonies. Authorities in the Sunshine State are allowed to conduct so-called “familial searching” which means law enforcement can look to other familiar DNA results to find the possible perpetrators.

The ACLU is likely to lose their case because courts have already upheld DNA sampling of convicted felons, based the theory on the fact that convicted criminals have fewer privacy rights.

Victims across the country waiting for justice

It’s not uncommon for victims to go years without justice. Before DNA testing began it was not unlikely that crimes would go unsolved forever. Alas DNA testing has emerged and technology can now solve new and cold cases alike.

The Connecticut Courant tells such a story about Kellie Greene who spent three years living in fear, waiting for authorities to catch the criminal who raped her.

The lack of urgency ultimately turned to bewilderment over the bureaucratic quagmire that continues to put women at risk of violence.

Green found there was a three-year wait for the crime lab to test the DNA evidence that her attacker left on her leggings. Once the DNA results finally came back, Greene was horrified to learn this was not the first rape the criminal had committed.

The three-year DNA backlog allowed the perpetrator to continue violating other women, one of whom was Greene.

“Had they been able to test the DNA in that earlier case, my rape would have never happened,” she said.
It’s been 15 years since Greene began her campaign to speed-up DNA testing and erase DNA backlogs.

Currently, there are more than 350,000 DNA samples for murder, rape and sexually abused children waiting to be tested. According to the federal government’s best estimates many of these DNA samples remain on the shelves. In 2005 alone labs across the country saw their DNA backlogs nearly double.

The flood of DNA samples has created logjams

The biggest known backlog is in Los Angeles County, where more than 12,000 rape kits remain untested. These kits include envelopes with blood and semen collected from rape victims. In fact, most of these kits remain in police department storage units.

According to a Human Rights Watch report, there is evidence that 500 cases involving adult victims has been backlogged so long that the 10-year time limit for prosecution has already passed.

“This is a betrayal of victims; it’s a betrayal of the public trust,” said Gail Abarbanel, who heads the rape treatment program at the UCLA Medical Center.

Close to half of the 1,000 kits collected at the UCLA center each year are from child victims ranging from 4 months to 17 years old. She admitted that prosecutors must postpone trials because there are so many DNA kits waiting to be tested.

Many of these serial offenders use the delays in DNA testing to seek out more victims. In a recent Justice Department report, 16 percent of state crime labs claim their backlogs have allowed additional crimes to be committed.

California’s Department of Justice lab has the largest DNA backlogs of any state. The backlog spiked once Proposition 69, which mandates DNA collection from arrestees, went into effect in January 2009.

A spokesman from California’s Department of Justice explains the state has approximately 30,000 samples classified as “in process.” The landslide of samples in the state has led to the uptick in hiring more scientists. However the DOJ says they may need to outsource samples to private labs. At this point the state lab has yet to set a target date for reducing the amount of unprocessed evidence.

DNA testing in San Diego solves cold cases

Meanwhile an example of the success of DNA testing in San Diego came when prosecutors were able to solve a 1993 murder case.

The gruesome crime involved two young boys in San Diego who were abducted near the Otay River, raped and killed. It took homicide detectives eight years until a DNA hit linked them to a man named Scott Erskine.
Erskine’s trial began in 2004 and it took prosecutors a few weeks before opening statements to inform the family of the grisly nature of the murders. After an 8-year wait, the defendant, Erskine, stood trial and now resides on death row.

CBS News is reporting that the San Diego Police Department has more than 2,000 untested rape kits in storage.

“The San Diego Police Department has a remarkably good sex crimes unit, so if there’s any chance that testing a kit could lead to a successful prosecution then we test it,” said Michael Grubb, San Diego PD Crime Lab Manager. According to Grubb, “the department has 2,065 rape kits in storage that were never sent to the crime lab.”

“The news of untested rape kits in San Diego is more evidence that the rape kit backlog is a widespread problem across the country that requires a strong national response,” said Sarah Tofte researcher at Human Rights Watch’s US Program. “Untested rape kits mean lost justice for rape victims, and San Diego must move quickly to eliminate their backlog,” she said.

The question remains why are there so many backlog DNA samples sitting on shelves across the country waiting to be tested? Crimes throughout the country have been solved because detectives have obtained DNA samples from victims or the crime scene.

With state labs requesting and receiving grants from the federal government to conduct more DNA testing why do the backlogs remain? And could the speediness of scientific labs prevent new crimes from taking place?

Nowhere is this more evident than details surrounding the murdered teenager Chelsea King. After the attack of a female jogger in the same park two months prior, law enforcement officers obtained a DNA swab from the victim, however it went untested until King’s murder.

The moral of the story is no stone should be left unturned when investigating crimes and justice delayed often results in justice denied.

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Missing teenager highlights sexual predators – law enforcement concerns

It was a balmy afternoon when teenager Chelsea King went for a run in Rancho Bernardo Community Park in San Diego – Thursday of last week. After four days of extensive searching the region where King’s family located her car and her parents are still no closer to bringing their High School honor student home.

The story is sad. Friends and family giving heartfelt pleas for the safe return of Chelsea, reporters clamoring for more details about evidence collected and frustrated search and rescue workers still coming up empty handed and officials are still no closer to finding the 17-year-old- girl..

The reality of this story starts with another sexual predator, John Albert Gardner III, 30, a registered sex offender who was supposed to be living in Lake Elsinore, however, he was arrested Sunday at Hernandez Hide-a-Way restaurant and is being held on suspicion of rape and murder.

Late-breaking news ties Gardner to another attack in the same park that took place on December 27, 2009. The victim was a female jogger who successfully fought off Gardner and ran for help at nearby homes.

Sheriff spokesperson Jan Caldwell, was reluctant to give any details on the connection of the two separate crimes at an afternoon press conference. “Our job now is to find Chelsea and bring her home.”

After authorities garnered a positive identification of Gardner for the December sexual assault case, the hopes of finding the teenager alive dwindled with each passing hour.

Concerned residents lined the park closely watching the helicopters, divers and search and rescue team pick through the weeds and brush looking for any clues that could lead to Chelsea’s whereabouts.

From the south end of the park neighbors watched FBI agents photograph a rocky embankment near the Community Park’s waterfall for more than four hours. The secluded cove below the waterfall was scoured by police watercraft. The Sheriff’s Department still believes the victim may have been dumped in Lake Hodges.

Most disturbing to residents is the fact Gardner, a registered sex offender was living with his mother who lives less than a mile from the crime scene. Gardner was also a frequent customer at the corner Circle K, the store clerk said. “He seemed normal.”

There was no reassurance from area residents that a registered sex offender was arrested for the alleged rape and murder. “We can never be safe in the park again, the police can’t protect us,” Martha Gerber said.

In 2000 Gardner was convicted of sexually molesting a 13-year-old neighbor. He went to prison for five years and successfully completed his parole in 2008. There have been numerous reports that once Gardner returned to the community he may have resumed his unlawful sexual advances on many different women.

Connecting the dots with Chelsea’s disappearance may answer some lingering questions regarding another 14-year-old Escondido girl who disappeared from home.

It’s been just over a year since the other teenager; Amber Dubois vanished on her way to school. According to Escondido Police Lt. Bob Benton, they have seen similarities between the victims, Chelsea and Amber.

Authorities have their work cut out for them if Chelsea or Amber are never found. For now the hundreds of investigators and family members remain hopeful that the girls will return home safe some day.

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