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Judge lifts gag order in Chelsea King case

By KELLY WHEELER

City News Service

A San Diego judge Thursday lifted a gag order in the case of a convicted sex offender who admitted raping and killing 17-year-old Chelsea King and 14-year-old Amber Dubois.

John Albert Gardner III, 31, pleaded guilty Friday to the rapes and murders of Chelsea, a Poway High senior, and Amber, an Escondido High School freshman.

In addition to lifting the gag order that had been in place, San Diego Superior Court Judge David Danielsen rejected a request by Chelsea’s parents for a new order blocking the media from making public photos and information contained in court documents about the killings.

Danielsen had discussed the issue privately with attorneys for Chelsea’s parents on Tuesday.

The Kings said they wanted the protective order to honor the memory of their daughter and give the community time to heal.

Thursday, an attorney hired by the King family, Pat Swan, argued unsuccessfully that a narrowly worded protective order should be issued “to protect the privacy of the King family.”

The King family wanted the judge to bar the release of crime scene photos, sexual assault reports and photos and autopsy reports and photos from the medical examiner’s office.

Swan said Marsy’s Law — the California Victims’ Bill of Rights passed in 2008 — protects the privacy of crime victims.

The attorney filed a declaration by Brent King detailing how his daughter’s death has devastated his family.

“This has been particularly devastating to my son Tyler,” he wrote. “Before Chelsea’s death, he was a happy 13-year-old attending middle school. He rarely missed a day of school. He enjoyed school and his friends. He now has difficulty going to school, and is basically attending school part-time.

“Chelsea’s death and all the details that have leaked out to date have truly traumatized Tyler,” his father wrote. “I cannot imagine the trauma and horror that my son will experience if any crime scene photographs of my daughter are released, or details of the forensic examination of her become public. He has already experienced a level of pain that is hard to imagine.”

Danielsen said that if he had the jurisdiction to issue the protective order, he would. But he said the request was an “overbroad” interpretation of Marsy’s Law.

Danielsen said there are already laws in place that govern law enforcement agencies on what they release to the public in criminal cases.

Media attorney Guylyn Cummins said she was not aware of any request by the media for photographs of Chelsea, Amber and the related crimes.

Deputy District Attorney Kristen Spieler said her office still regards the Gardner case as pending, and prosecutors would not be commenting until he is sentenced June 1.

“However, let me be clear that the District Attorney’s Office completely supports the victims’ rights to privacy as enumerated in Marsy’s Law,” the prosecutor said. “And based on those rights and based upon their request, the District Attorney is going to honor their wishes and not speak about this case publicly, and in addition, we have requested that law enforcement agencies also honor their request.”

Gardner attacked, raped and killed Chelsea, who disappeared after going for a run Feb. 25 at Rancho Bernardo Community Park. The avid runner and straight-A student’s body was found March 2 in a shallow grave near a tributary of nearby Lake Hodges — not far from Gardner’s mother’s home.

Gardner admitted attacking the girl while she was jogging and taking her to a remote area, where he raped and strangled her and buried her in a shallow grave.

He also admitted killing the younger teen, who vanished Feb. 13, 2009, while walking to Escondido High School. Her skeletal remains were found March 6 in Pala, based on what Gardner told authorities.