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Status hearing for John Gardner scheduled for Friday

A status hearing is scheduled Friday afternoon for a sex offender charged with raping and killing a 17-year-old Poway High School senior. Court officials declined comment on the focus of the status conference for John Albert Gardner III, 31.

He was charged last month with sexually assaulting and murdering Chelsea King, who disappeared after going for a run Feb. 25 at Rancho Bernardo Community Park.

The avid runner and straight-A student’s body was discovered five days later in a shallow grave near a tributary of nearby Lake Hodges.

Gardner is also charged with sexually assaulting a woman in the same park last Dec. 27.

The defendant was sentenced to six years in prison in 2000 after pleading guilty to molesting a 13-year-old girl in the same area.

At the time of Gardner’s arrest, authorities said he was a focus of the investigation into the apparent murder of 14-year-old Amber Dubois, whose skeletal remains were found last month in Pala.

The Escondido High School freshman vanished while walking to campus in February 2009.

Gardner could face the death penalty if convicted of King’s murder. A preliminary hearing is scheduled Aug. 4.