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Chelsea King Tragedy: Another Wasted Opportunity

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There is no excuse for Chelsea King's death. It's a case of wasted opportunities, justice interrupted, justice denied.

Chelsea King

Robin Sax: Convicted sex offender John Albert Gardner III, 30, from Lake Elsinore, Calif., pleaded guilty in May 2000 to molesting a 13-year-old female neighbor. He was sentenced to only six years in prison, and served just five. 

Are you kidding me?! A violent sex offender only served five years in prison? How is it that such a plea-bargain passed legal and judicial muster? To me, it shouldn't have. It was merely a wimpy sentence for a heinous crime.

In 2000, Gardner allegedly lured his victim to his home with an offer to watch a movie, and then he violently assaulted her. From the time he was released from prison (in September, 2005) until his parole ended (in 2008), he had to wear a GPS-tracking device. And that's it. No long-term consequences, no long-term monitoring ... just a weak, five-year sentence and a measly GPS. And oh, yeah: Registration as a sex offender -- which apparently is supposed to be some sort of consulation prize. (I'm not bashing sex registries, but when the likes of Gardner and Phillip Garrido commit sex crimes after registering, one must question the system's effectiveness.)

Gardner is now being held in prison without bail for the rape and murder of 17-year-old high-school student Chelsea King. She vanished last Thursday after going for a run near Lake Hodges at Rancho Bernardo Community Park in San Diego, a popular park for runners. This was a rape and murder that could have been avoided. The very people who were supposed to protect us and ensure justice had had an opportunity -- and wasted it.

Today, authorities believe that they have found Chelsea's body near Lake Hodges. What a tragedy! Now police are looking for a link between Gardner and another Calif. girl who's still missing -- 14-year-old Amber Dubois.

Authorities have also said that Gardner was involved in an attack in December 2009 on a 22-year-old woman in the same park where King disappeared. (Gardner allegedly tackled the woman to the ground; cops say she escaped after hitting Gardner in the face with her elbow.)

Back in 2000, an official court psychiatrist had deemed Gardner extremely likely to be a repeat offender. This psychiatrist argued for a thirty-year prison term. For reasons unknown to me, the prosecutor pled it down to just six years. This was truly a system malfunction.

Folks, it's time to wake up! Sexual assaults occur in frighteningly huge numbers. And if victims survive the assault, they get re-victimized on the witness stand. National sentencing disparities are unacceptable. The plea-bargaining that goes on is a huge issue -- trust me, I was a prosecutor for fifteen years, and I saw stuff like this happen every day!

I have a lot of ideas for improving the system. First, there should be mandatory sentencing schemes nationwide. And once in place, these laws need to be USED. Clearly, there also needs to be better supervision of registered sex offenders. Money and time should be spent training professionals in this field. (This should include all officials involved: law enforcement, prosecutors, advocates, therapists, judges, and probation and parole officers.) Studies show that providing training and resources prevents burnout and inspires and motivates people in this line of work.

As an alternative to jail and/or prison, there should be live-in lockdown facilities created specifically for working with, treating and studying sex offenders. As with drug rehabilitation, there should be facilities where we can take a low-level sex offender off the street, both to ensure the safety of the public and to treat the offender -- or at least learn from him or her.

There are so many changes that need to be implemented. We need to make better use of new technology to provide enhanced supervision of registered sex offenders. Registered sex offenders should be subject to lifetime counseling, as well -- not merely during the term of their parole or probation. Offenders should also be required to inform authorities of travel.  (Gardner had supposedly been visiting his mother in Rancho Bernardo. He doesn't even live there.) For more of my ideas on how to reform our malfunctioning system, read my book, "It Happens Every Day: Inside the Life of a Sex Crimes D.A."

Gardner was not a low-level offender. He was a high-risk, violent offender, and he should have been put away for life. Period.

When an event like this occurs, it makes us question who's in charge. Who's protecting our kids? How can we keep our children safe? Sexual assault is disgusting -- we all can agree on that. And the murder of this young, innocent, darling, straight-A San Diego teen was truly horrific. Our hearts go out to Chelsea King's family and friends. But no amount of condolences can even come close to healing the pain her family must be feeling. 

When will this type of preventable tragedy end?

next: Bill Keeping Moms From Prison Passes
35 comments so far | Post a comment now
steph March 3, 2010, 7:07 AM

incredibly sad and horrible situation. And just so disgusting how it could have been prevented by our justice system. I just feel so sad for the parents. Their beautiful girl was taken by a person that attacks like an animal? ugghh And was evaluated, prosecuted and proven to need a large amount of time in custody and/or being monitored…but given a sentence that some people receive for much less convictions, like possession or theft. and what is so hard about at least keeping a tracking device for a very long time? i think the housing idea similar to rehab housing is an awesome idea. prayers to Chelsea’s family.

Selfish Mom March 3, 2010, 7:52 AM

I agree with everything you said. And I’d like to add that taking low-level non-violent drug offenders out of prison to make room for this type of scum would help with the logistics.

Anonymous March 3, 2010, 8:09 AM

Firing squads please…

SDMom March 3, 2010, 8:10 AM

It is incredibly disturbing that these animals are out there preying on innocent children. We need to lock sex offenders up forever - or sentence them with the death penalty. They are PREDITORS looking for their next innocent victim. We need to bring every mom, dad, aunt, uncle, grandparent and sibling in the U.S. together to make sure that this does not happen again! To the King family and other families who has had to face this horrendous situation, we are praying for you. xo

Anonymous March 3, 2010, 8:35 AM

Please don’t post there pictures together like that, I’m sure her family would not want to see that.

sophiasmom March 3, 2010, 9:02 AM

I completely agree, he needed to be locked up for life. Would they let a violent murderer out after 6 years? i dont think so, but a violent sex offender does. These rapists can eventually decide that just torturing their victims are no longer enough of a “thrill” for them and this is what happens. Innocent girls are taken and families are heartbroken forever. It needs to stop. Just recently in my neighborhood, they found out that a medium risk child molester owned a karate school. Apparently he is not breaking any laws even though he is working directly with children. I truly believe that there are too many loopholes in the law and they need to be fixed in order to protect our children! Put these monsters away!

Walt March 3, 2010, 9:11 AM

If money is the reason we don’t incarcerate or track these predators, then perhaps we need to shorten the prison times for non violent offenders and shift the resources to the more serious criminals.

AcceptCopeObeyObama March 3, 2010, 9:27 AM

Problem: progressives leading us the other direction. Read up on Vermont’s Restorative Justice Models. Progressive thought is moving toward the forgiveness, blame the public approach to criminal acts. We are living in the Age of Idiocy.

sauch March 3, 2010, 9:35 AM

Women against sex offenders need to unite with people who can help change the laws,the problem is we have a weak system in place for such horrific crimes.How many more daughters are we going to have to lose in order for women to come togeter with those who are in the legal community who can help us put real laws into effect. It sounds like Robin Sax has a lot of good ideas, however she needs take it further and put laws into action. We as a nation need to stop talking and start acting on a chainging the weak protection we now have.

Anonymous March 3, 2010, 12:47 PM

I agree with firing squad/death penalty.

tennmom March 3, 2010, 4:29 PM

A 19 year old man who has sex with a 16 year old girl can be labled a sex offender in some states. This is an entirely different case.
I will forever stand on my opinion that a violent sex offender or a pedophile can not be “cured”, can not be rehabilitated and should NEVER see the light of day again.
I think they should get to chose between spending the rest of their lives in prison or the death penalty. Then, whatever option they chose, the other punishment should be given to them. Their victims didn’t have a choice so why should the evil *&%$# get what they want?
My heart hurts for this girl’s family. I hate that my 10 & 12 year old daughters were in the room when the news was announced. I hate even more that I have been warning them about people like that DEMON that killed that sweet girl for years.

renee March 3, 2010, 6:54 PM

i am sorry for the people who have to suffer at the hands of sex offenders,and the only way to stop them is maditory death sentence,especially the sickos that go after kids.they can not be rehabilitated i dont care what anyone says.

Jay March 3, 2010, 10:57 PM

“ConsOlation prize”. Not “consulation prize”

friend March 3, 2010, 11:32 PM

i’m still wondering why it’s inhumane to take away their manhood. these people did not regard others’ human rights, why should they be entitled to any?

Real Justice March 4, 2010, 6:32 AM

Castrate this monsterous inhuman pig and let him bleed out. Save the tax payers dollars. This creep does not deserve another day on this planet. Give me 5 minutes alone with him…..please.

Vanessa March 4, 2010, 5:27 PM

Cut it off.

Enough said.

Anonymous March 18, 2010, 1:32 PM

This guy needs to be treated the way he treated these poor little girls. He is not a man.

Anonymous April 17, 2010, 11:23 PM

this guy is awesome lol

Fashion Merchandising October 12, 2010, 2:27 PM


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