Man in Calif. teen case got light sentence in 2000

Liz De La Torre

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From The Associated Press

SAN DIEGO – A sex offender suspected in the disappearance of Chelsea King served only five years in prison for molesting a girl a decade ago after prosecutors rejected a psychiatrist’s advice to seek a stiffer punishment, court documents state.

Prosecutors said in 2000 that John Albert Gardner III’s lack of significant prior criminal record justified less than the maximum sentence for molesting a 13-year-old girl.

They also said they wanted to “spare the victim the trauma of testifying.”

The San Diego Union-Tribune said Tuesday that Gardner had faced a maximum of nearly 11 years in prison under terms of his plea agreement. Prosecutors urged six years — the sentence later ordered by a judge.

In their 11-page sentencing memo, prosecutors said Gardner “never expressed one scintilla of remorse for his attack upon the victim” despite overwhelming evidence.

The girl was beaten before escaping from his home and running to a neighbor.

Psychiatrist Dr. Matthew Carroll wrote in sentencing documents, “There is no known treatment for an individual that sexually assaults girls and does not admit to it in any way.”

Gardner is now in custody without bail for investigation of murder and rape as thousands of authorities and volunteers search for the 17-year-old King, who disappeared Thursday from a wooded park in San Diego County.

“Until I hear differently, I believe she’s alive,” her father Brent King said Tuesday on “The Early Show” on CBS.

Chelsea King is a straight-A student at Poway High School who plays French horn for the San Diego Youth Symphony, competes on her school cross-country team and volunteers in a peer counseling program.

Police have said they found unspecified physical evidence linking Gardner to the disappearance and would decide by Wednesday whether to file charges.

Gardner of Lake Elsinore pleaded guilty in May 2000 to molesting a 13-year-old female neighbor. Prosecutors said he lured the victim to his home with an offer to watch “Patch Adams,” a 1998 movie starring Robin Williams.

Investigators also suspect Gardner could be tied to a Dec. 27 assault on a female jogger from Colorado who fended off her attacker in the same park where King disappeared.

In an interview Monday with The Associated Press, the Kings, who also have a 13-year-old son, recounted learning that their daughter had disappeared.

Brent King had returned from the gym around 5:30 p.m. Thursday, the same time his wife, Kelly, 48, got home with groceries. Chelsea, who always kept them advised of her whereabouts, wasn’t home.

“Because it was so out of character for Chelsea not to tell us or call us and say I’m going to be late … we just had that feeling,” Brent King said.

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Man in Calif. teen case got light sentence in 2000