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Search warrants in John Gardner case unsealed

Details of investigation, King murder released

By JAMES R. RIFFEL

City News Service

The man who admitted raping and murdering Chelsea King was arrested less than five hours after being identified as a suspect through a DNA match to semen found on her underwear, according to search warrants unsealed Monday by an El Cajon judge.

The documents also revealed that the 17-year-old Poway High School senior’s blood was found on the same undergarment, and that the day before she disappeared, Gardner may have followed a pre-teen girl home from school.

Judge Peter Deddeh ordered the search warrants unsealed just days after a jurist presiding over John Albert Gardner’s case in San Diego lifted a gag order.

According to a declaration in support of one of the search warrants, prepared by sheriff’s Detective Patrick O’Brien, the underwear was discovered near running trails leading from Rancho Bernardo Community Park on Feb. 26, the day after Chelsea was reported missing.

Criminalists with the sheriff’s Crime Laboratory developed a DNA profile for the teen, and two days later matched DNA taken from a sample of the blood, O’Brien wrote.

According to the detective, he was informed before noon the same day “hat the DNA profile from the semen obtained from the underwear matched the DNA profile in the state Department of Justice D.A. database of John Albert Gardner.”

Police then staked out his mother’s house in Rancho Bernardo and his grandmother’s home in Lake Elsinore and arrested him around 4:15 p.m.

“Upon Gardner’s arrest, law enforcement made entry into the residences to determine if Chelsea King was being held captive in the residences,” O’Brien wrote. “Officers searched in areas where King could be held, but she was not found.”

On April 16, Gardner, 31, pleaded guilty to raping and murdering the straight-A student and avid runner, as well as 14-year-old Escondido High School freshman Amber Dubois.

Chelsea’s body was discovered Feb. 30 in a shallow grave along the shore of nearby Lake Hodges. She had been strangled and sexually assaulted.

Amber disappeared in February 2009 while walking to school. Her skeletal remains were discovered in Pala last month. She had been stabbed and raped.

According to search warrant affidavits from the Department of Justice released this afternoon by El Cajon Judge Herbert Exarhos, two utility workers learned sheriff’s deputies were searching Pala for Amber’s body last month and reported seeing a male and female together in the area around 8 a.m. the morning she disappeared in 2009.

The San Diego Gas & Electric employees said the two people they saw fit the description of Gardner and Amber Dubois, and that they were near a silver Ford Focus, a car that Gardner used at the time, according to the affidavit.

Another document released by Exarhos involved a telephonic request for a warrant on Feb. 28 to search Gardner’s homes in Rancho Bernardo and Lake Elsinore after authorities had barged in to see if Chelsea was inside.

Other warrants were granted in mid- and late-March to obtain cell phone records from Sprint, Verizon and Cricket; and online records from two sites.

Gardner’s account names were Energizer Bunny and Jason6the9Stud on MySpace, and PapaJohn 69314MM@yahoo.com on that site, according to the warrants.

The warrants released by Deddeh revealed that an 11-year-old girl was followed by a large man — believed to be Gardner — driving a black compact car as she walked home from Bernardo Heights Middle School on Feb. 24.

O’Brien wrote that the man stayed in the car and made no attempt to contact the child. But a woman in another vehicle believed he “seemed very suspicious” and decided to follow the girl to make sure she got home safely, then told her parents and called police.

She later identified a photograph of Gardner, who had access to a black Nissan Sentra owned by a girlfriend, according to the detective.

The afternoon Chelsea disappeared, the defendant also had contact with two women along the jogging trail.

One said she saw him drinking beer and watching a rattlesnake — and she chatted with him as she passed him back and forth on her run. Another saw him running and believed she later saw Chelsea jogging.

Some of the information contained in the warrants unsealed Monday was obtained by Los Angeles radio station KFI earlier this month. The station posted on its website documents that showed detectives searched the homes for — and found — shovels, pick axes and specific items of clothing.

They also searched for binding materials like rope and duct tape; items with blood stains; human hair, tissues and secretions; and documents that would prove possession of the residence and the sedan.

Prosecutors have said they would not talk about the case, out of respect for the families of the victims, until after Gardner is sentenced June 1 to life in prison without parole.

Judge David Danielsen last week denied a request by the King family for an order to prevent the news media from publishing crime scene photos, sexual assault reports and photos, and autopsy reports and photos from the medical examiner’s office.

In a court declaration, Chelsea’s father Brent King wrote that his family, especially his teenage son, remains traumatized by the girl’s death and has no wish to learn more.

Family attorney Pat Swan met with Deddeh in his chambers to ask that certain portions of the warrants be blacked out. In the end, the judge only allowed redactions for personal information for Chelsea, like her driver’s license number, and the last name of the 11-year-old girl who was following home from school.