Police think Gardner may be connected to Lake Elsinore case
A registered sex offender accused of murdering Poway High senior Chelsea King was reported Thursday to match the description of a man seen stalking a 13-year-old girl on the same day and in the same community where Chelsea went missing.
San Diego police received a report a week ago today about a man in a black sedan following a 13-year-old girl as she walked near Bernardo Heights Middle School in Rancho Bernardo, CW6 News reported this morning.
A black sedan frequently seen parked in front of John Albert Gardner III’s mother’s townhouse in Rancho Bernardo has since been towed away by police, according to the news station.
Gardner also bears a striking resemblance to a composite sketch of a suspect in an attempted abduction of a girl less than four miles from his residence in Lake Elsinore last October.
The Press-Enterprise in Riverside reported that the girl was walking to a friend’s house when she was approached by a man driving a sedan. After a brief conversation, the man showed the girl a gun and demanded she get inside his car, but she refused and ran, according to the newspaper.
Local authorities say they also are investigating whether Gardner might be responsible for the February 2009 disappearance of Escondido High School freshman Amber Dubois, who was 14 when she vanished while walking to campus.
Gardner, 30, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to murdering 17-year-old Chelsea, who vanished last Thursday after she went for an after-school run at Rancho Bernardo Community Park.
In addition to murder, Gardner was charged with assault with the intent to commit rape for an attack on another woman in the same park last December, according to District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.
The murder charge includes a sentence-enhancing allegation of murder during the commission of a rape or attempted rape.
The defendant could face the death penalty if convicted. A decision on what penalty Gardner will face will be determined after the preliminary hearing.
Gardner — who is being held without bail in solitary confinement in a downtown jail cell — was ordered back to court Tuesday, and a preliminary hearing was tentatively scheduled for March 18.
According to public records, Gardner was convicted of assaulting and molesting a girl in 2000. The victim, a 13-year-old neighbor, said he repeatedly punched her in the face and fondled her at his mother’s townhouse, which is about a mile from Rancho Bernardo Community Park.
The girl said she went to the residence after Gardner invited her in to watch a movie.
Gardner was sentenced to six years in prison and served five before he was released in September 2005. He was on probation until 2008.
He registered as a sex offender using his grandmother’s Lake Elsinore address but reportedly had been staying with his mother lately.
Dr. Matthew Carroll, a psychiatrist who interviewed Gardner following the 2000 assault, described him as “callous” and lacking remorse, making him “an extremely poor candidate for any sexual offender treatment,” according to court records.
“It is my opinion that (Gardner) would be a continued danger to underage girls in the community,” Carroll wrote as he recommended the maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.
A memorandum from the District Attorney’s Office said prosecutors asked for a six-year sentence to resolve the case without a trial and to spare the victim from testifying.