Saturday, March 6, 2010

Advocates: The System Failed Slain California Teen Chelsea King

(March 5) -- The convicted sex offender charged with raping and murdering a 17-year-old Southern California girl received too lenient a sentence in an earlier attack and should never have been allowed back on the streets, the victim's parents and advocates say.

The arrest of John Albert Gardner III, 30, in the death of Chelsea King has caused an uproar as the public wonders whether anything could have been done to prevent the attack. Her parents believe the system failed their daughter.

Laws need to be changed so that registered sex offenders are kept away from children, her father, Brent King, said Friday.

"Kids [need to be] kids and be safe," he told NBC's "Today" show. "And predators should not be allowed within their reach."
An undated family photo shows Chelsea King.
Family Photo / AP
Searchers found Chelsea King's body on Tuesday afternoon, five days after she vanished while jogging in a San Diego park.

A Houston crime victim advocate said steps must be taken to prevent other girls from being victimized.

"The sad reality is, you have to try to take a negative and turn it into a positive, so that there won't be any more Chelsea Kings that have to be needlessly and brutally murdered for no reason other than the systematic failure," Andy Kahan told AOL News. "That is the real quest now -- to ensure she didn't die in vain."

A high school senior from Poway, King went for a jog on Feb. 25 but never returned. Police found her bodyTuesday in a shallow grave near a lake shoreline in the Rancho Bernardo Community Park in San Diego. Gardner had been taken into custody two days earlier after investigators said they had found evidence linking him to King.

Police said they also have evidence linking Gardner to the Dec. 27 assault on a 22-year-old woman who was jogging in the same area.

Authorities are also looking for possible connections between Gardner and the disappearance ofAmber Dubois, a 15-year-old girl last seen in Escondido in February 2009.

In 2000, Gardner was convicted of molesting a 13-year-old girl. Prosecutors said Gardner had lured the teen to his house under the premise of watching a movie. The girl was beaten before escaping and calling for help.

A psychiatrist recommended that Gardner be given the maximum sentence of at least 10 years in prison because he showed no remorse and was a "continued danger to underage girls in the society." Nevertheless, San Diego County prosecutors agreed to lesser charges to spare the victim the ordeal of testifying.
This undated photo provided by the National Sex Offender Public web site shows John Albert Gardner.  Gardner was arrested in connection with 17-year-old Chelsea King's disappearance in San Diego County. / AP
John Albert Gardner, a registered sex offender shown in an undated photo from the National Sex Offender Web site, was arrested Sunday in connection with 17-year-old Chelsea King's disappearance in San Diego.

"It is extremely rare for a psychiatrist to make a recommendation, particularly of a maximum sentence. Normally you are dealing with people who are more treatment-oriented, so it is pretty telling that the psychiatrist said that this guy was a danger and will be a danger and deserves the maximum punishment," Kahan said.

"That recommendation should been taken wholeheartedly as gospel, but, unfortunately, the prosecutor ignored it."

Under the plea deal, Gardner received just six years in prison, of which he served just over five, instead of the 30 years he faced for the original charges, according to court documents.

"They had an opportunity to nail him and they elected not to," Kahan said. "In hindsight, it has come back to bite them, but the harsh reality is that many offenders don't even go to prison for sexually molesting children. In addition, there are roughly 600,000 registered sex offenders nationally, and about 25 percent of them are missing in action/whereabouts unknown, so to me it is a public safety crisis -- an epidemic -- and we need to treat it as such."

Jessica's Law, which is designed to prevent sex offenders from attacking again, was not approved until 2006, after Gardner was paroled. He was, however, subject to Megan's Law, which requires sex offenders to register with local law enforcement and provides the public with certain information on their whereabouts. Gardner was listed on the site.

The listing does little to prevent a sex offender from reoffending, Kahan said, adding that there is no way of determining if a sex offender can be successfully treated.

"Any treatment provider worth a grain of salt will tell you there is no cure-all," he said. "It is kind of like an alcoholic -- they can attend meetings and go to treatment, but they can never unequivocally state that they will never drink again. It is the same thing with a sex offender, especially a pedophile."

King's parents said they are determined to see that laws are changed to help prevent their tragedy from befalling another family.

"How many times do our daughters need to be raped before we put these monsters behind bars forever?" Kelly King said Thursday on CNN's "Larry King Live."

Kahan said that it is great that the Kings want to take proactive steps, but he is skeptical about how effective new laws can be. He believes the only way to stop sex offenders from attacking new victims is to lock them up for a long time.

"It is time we need to start hammering the people with lengthy sentences, particularly those that molest the most vulnerable members of our society -- our children," Kahan said.

"I get sick and tired of naming state laws after victims of child molesters. Think about all your state laws. You got Jessica's Law, Megan's Law, Ashley's Law, the Amber Hagerman Act, etc., etc. It's pretty sad that we continue to name those laws after dead children who were taken from known offenders."
Filed under: NationCrime

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