By KELLY WHEELER
City News Service
A probation report prepared for the 2000 sentencing of a man who molested a 13-year-old girl — and now stands accused of murdering
Poway teen Chelsea King — should be unsealed and made available to the public, a judge ruled Monday.
But Judge David Danielsen stayed his order until Wednesday morning to give the attorneys for John Albert Gardner III time to decide if they want to appeal the decision to the 4th District Court of Appeal.
Danielsen, ruling on a motion by the San Diego Union-Tribune, said he had to weigh the public's right to access court records versus the "very significant" right of the defendant to get a fair trial.
The judge said most, if not all, of the facts contained in the 2000 probation report have been disclosed already.
The report would normally be sealed, but if a person is charged with a subsequent crime, the law allows for it to be unsealed, the judge said.
In the 2000 case, the 13-year-old victim said Gardner repeatedly punched her in the face and fondled her at his mother's townhouse, which is about a mile from Rancho Bernardo Community Park, where Chelsea disappeared Feb. 25.
The 17-year-old teen's body was discovered in a shallow grave next to Lake Hodges last Tuesday.
In the 2000 case, Gardner pleaded guilty, was sentenced to six years in prison and was released in 2005. He was on probation until 2008 and registered as a sex offender using his grandmother's Lake Elsinore address but reportedly had been staying with his mother lately.
In addition to Chelsea's murder, Gardner is charged with assault with the intent to commit rape for an attack on another woman in the same park last December, prosecutors said.
Investigators have questioned whether Gardner is linked to the death of 14-year-old Amber Dubois, who had been missing for a year before her remains were discovered over the weekend in Pala. Gardner has not been charged in connection with that girl's disappearance.
Defense attorney Mel Epley said his client had been mentioned by authorities with involvement in the Dubois investigation and urged Danielsen to order law enforcement personnel, prosecutors, defense attorneys and court officials not to make any comment on the pending case.
The judge said it wouldn't be appropriate for officials to comment.
A hearing is scheduled Tuesday in Danielsen's courtroom on the charges Gardner is currently facing.