State Senate approves Chelsea's Law

By City News Service

A bill aimed at toughening restrictions on violent sexual predators, and named after a slain Poway High School senior, was unanimously passed by the state Senate today and was headed for the governor’s desk.

It was one of four bills passed by the Senate to address sex offenses.

“Chelsea’s Law,” introduced by Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, R-San Diego, was named for 17-year-old Chelsea King, who was raped and killed by registered sex offender John Albert Gardner III on Feb. 25 near Rancho Bernardo Community Park.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he looks forward to signing AB 1844, which calls for mandatory life sentences for forcible violent sex crimes against children. It will also tighten sex offense parole guidelines and require lifelong tracking of certain sex offenders.

“I am committed to protecting our children and keeping our communities safe from the threat of sexual predators, and Chelsea’s Law will help do that by creating harsher penalties on those that prey on children,” the governor said. “I applaud the Senate for voting to pass this important public safety legislation today.”

Chelsea’s parents, Brent and Kelly King, released a statement after the Senate’s 33-0 vote.

“The collective hard work by Assemblyman Fletcher, his bipartisan legislative partners and impassioned Californians is culminating in a historical outcome with tangible benefits to our state’s children,” they said. “Chelsea’s larger-than-life legacy is helping to fulfill her and our dreams for positive change.”

Gardner pleaded guilty to Chelsea’s murder and also that of 14-year-old Amber Dubois in 2009. Authorities said that before the killings, they missed many opportunities to return Gardner to prison for parole violations.

“It is extremely difficult, no matter what you do, to follow someone who is on parole every minute, every hour, of every day,” Sen. Mark Wyland, R-Carlsbad, said on the Senate floor. “This bill addresses that and moves things forward.”

Wyland said he plans to introduce a bill next year to improve the psychological evaluations used to determine whether a prison inmate should be released back into the community. The current evaluation is “so poor” and is poorly administered by the Department of Corrections, he said.

The senator also called for more indeterminate sentences that would give authorities discretion on whether to release a convict.

Gardner was convicted in 2000 of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old neighbor girl and sentenced to six years in prison. After his release, he split his time between Escondido and his mother’s house in Rancho Bernardo, and listed a Lake Elsinore address for his sex offender registration form.

He had a number of contacts with law enforcement while he was free but was never returned to prison.

Amber disappeared in February 2009 as she walked to Escondido High School.

Gardner said he raped and stabbed the teen and led authorities to her grave in Pala.

Just over a year later, he accosted Chelsea as she ran along a jogging trail. He conceded that he raped and strangled her, and buried her in a shallow grave beside Lake Hodges.

He was sentenced to two consecutive life terms in prison without the possibility of parole, plus 25 years for attacking a woman last December.

The other bills passed today by the Senate were:

  • AB 33, the “Peace Officers Missing Child Standards Act,” which would set guidelines for law enforcement handling of missing persons cases, including the use of checklists in investigations;
  • AB 34, the “Missing Child Notification Protection Act,” which would require police to enter case information into state and federal databases within two hours of receiving credible missing persons reports; and
  • AB 1022, the “Missing Persons Coordination Act,” which would create the position of Missing Persons Coordinator within the state Department of Justice.

Each of the bills will return to the Assembly for a final concurrence vote before going to the governor’s desk.