Kings say state agency could have prevented Chelsea's death
By James Riffel
City News ServiceChelsea King “would be alive today” had the Poway teen’s killer been returned to prison for parole violations, but a state agency “failed in its duty and did not act,” according to a compensation claim filed by her parents and obtained Wednesday by City News Service.
The document filed on behalf of Brent and Kelly King cited John Albert Gardner III’s numerous parole violations.
“The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation knew of his previous crimes and history and could have returned Gardner to prison for one or more of these qualifying parole violations,” the claim states.
The registered sex offender pleaded guilty to murdering Chelsea and, a year earlier, 14-year-old Amber Dubois of Escondido. He was sentenced to two life terms in state prison.
The King family filed papers with the California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board last week. A spokeswoman for the family notified the media of the filing, but details of the claim were not released at the time.
The claims board oversees two separate programs, according to Lynn Margherita, communications manager for the board, who said there may have been some confusion about which program was involved with the King filing.
One is the Victim Compensation Program which provides financial assistance to eligible victims of violent crimes and is funded by federal grants and offender restitution fines, not by state taxpayers. Claims in the program are legally confidential, according to Margherita.
The Kings filed under the other program, the Government Claims Program, which provides administrative opportunity to resolve contract and tort claims for money or damages against California state agencies and employees, Margherita said. Filing such a claim, which is public record, is “the first step for a person who is considering suing the state,” she said.
The Kings’ filing explained the family’s reasoning in accusing the state.
“Had Gardner been returned to prison or even if the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation had continued to monitor Gardner electronically until he showed an ability to serve his parole without violation, Chelsea King would be alive today,” according to their claim.
Gardner was imprisoned for six years for the sexual assault of a 13-year-old neighbor girl in 2000 in Rancho Bernardo, and was monitored as a parolee for several years after his release.
The paperwork lists numerous occasions in which Gardner violated his parole, but instead of being returned to prison, he was freed from GPS monitoring in September 2008.
His first murder victim, Amber Dubois, disappeared the following February, and Chelsea was killed on Feb. 25 of this year.
“Soon after his electronic monitoring had been removed, Gardner began stalking, raping and murdering teenage girls,” according to the filing, which said Gardner could have been evaluated for commitment to a state mental hospital or been placed on lifetime GPS monitoring.
Gardner committed the following parole violations, according to the document:
- in July 2008, he committed a felony by entering the grounds of a state prison;
- he came within 100 yards of places where children congregate;
- he resided within a half-mile of a school;
- he had access to, and made multiple visits to, a storage facility; and
- he violated his curfew 158 times over a 13-month period.
Combined with the original sexual assault, “his repeated serious parole violations indicated an unacceptably high level of risk of re-offense,” according to the claim.
Gardner was arrested several days after Chelsea was killed, and eventually pleaded to killing her and Amber. He is serving two consecutive life terms in prison without the possibility of parole, and additional time for trying to assault a female jogger near the spot where he attacked Chelsea.
In a statement released to the media last week by Sara Muller Fraunces, identified as “volunteer media liaison” for the King family, the state filing was announced, but Fraunces emphasized that no decision had been made about a possible lawsuit against the state.
“It would not be correct to presume that the King family has made a final decision to seek compensation from the state,” Fraunces said in an e-mail. She said the claim was filed “in advance of a six-month claims deadline’’ to allow the family “more time for thoughtful deliberation.”
Fraunces quoted Kelly and Brent King as saying that if any compensation is received, “it will be used to further Chelsea’s dream of changing our world for the better.”
In the claim, the Kings said Gardner’s initial crime “of beating and sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl, coupled with his repeated serious parole violations, indicated an unacceptably high level of risk for re-offense.”
The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation “knew of his previous crimes and history and could have returned Gardner to prison for one or more of these qualifying parole violations,” the filing says. “For certain of these parole violations it had a mandatory duty to act, but the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation failed in its duty and did not act. Instead, less than a month after the last of his many known parole violations, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in September 2008 released Gardner from parole and discontinued monitoring electronically.
“Soon after his electronic monitoring had been removed, Gardner began stalking, raping and murdering teenage girls. Had Gardner been returned to prison, he would have been evaluated for commitment to a state mental hospital as a sexually violent predator and had he not been committed would have qualified for lifetime GPS monitoring.”