Gardner sentenced to two life terms for killing teens


City News Service

A registered sex offender who raped and murdered 17-year-old Chelsea King and 14-year-old Amber Dubois was sentenced Friday to two consecutive life prison terms without parole, with parents of the two girls saying they wanted the killer to live in fear for his life every day behind bars.

John Albert Gardner III, 31, was also sentenced to an additional 25 years to life for attacking a 22-year-old jogger in December, and he received an additional 24 years because of various prior convictions.

Gardner pleaded guilty in April to attacking King on Feb. 25 while she was jogging behind Rancho Bernardo Community Park and taking her to a remote area, where he raped and strangled her and buried her in a shallow grave. Her body was found five days later.

He also admitted killing Dubois, who vanished while walking to Escondido High School in February 2009.

Gardner said nothing during the sentencing hearing, mostly staring straight down at the table in front of him.

Chelsea’s younger brother, Tyler, cried when Gardner entered the courtroom.

Two emotional videos were played in court during the hearing — celebrating the lives of Chelsea and Amber. The one for Chelsea was of friends who spoke about her personality, while Amber’s video showed photos of her as a baby and into her teenage years.

Gardner wept openly during both videos, his shoulders quaking as tears streamed from his eyes.

Chelsea’s father, Brent King, addressed Gardner in court, telling him he wanted him to live in fear every day of his life in prison.

“I know you think your time in prison will be hell on Earth,” he said. “I hope you’re right.”

King called him “John” and said it was the first time he had spoken his name.

“I realized that names like monster and animal, in a perverse way, let you off the hook,” King said. “You knew what you were doing when you chose to corner Chelsea.”

Because Gardner understood he had a problem and didn’t fix it, he was a coward, King said.

“I want you to feel every day, every moment, the same fear Chelsea must have felt,” King said. “Unlike you, Chelsea was no coward. I can assure you she showed more courage in her final moments than you showed in your entire life.”

King described how he would interact with Chelsea as an infant and young girl.

“I loved feeding her, playing with her, changing her diapers, just being her dad,” he said.

He concluded his remarks telling Gardner, “You can go straight to hell.”

Chelsea’s mother, Kelly King, told Gardner that “nothing, and no one, can save you.”

“Chelsea was a sweet, loving and innocent soul who could not have fathomed the wretched piece of evil that ended her life that day,” she said. "... You have taken a life that was worth an infinite number of yours.”

When she began her statement, Kelly King told Gardner, “Look at me,” and he did so, but only reluctantly. Later, she made the demand again, and when he refused to meet her gaze, she added, “Why am I not surprised?”

Kelly King said she couldn’t articulate what the defendant had “plundered” from her family and the community.

“You have stolen from a magnificent 13-year-old boy his magnificent sister and his ever-present best friend,” the mother said.

In March, three days after Gardner was arraigned on charges of murdering King, he led authorities to Dubois’ body in Pala. To avoid the death penalty, he agreed to plead guilty to both murders and the December assault of a woman — Candice Moncayo — in the same Rancho Bernardo Park where Chelsea died.

The Kings and Amber’s parents both condemned the criminal justice system, saying it allowed the defendant to remain free despite a previous conviction that forced him to register as a sex offender, and several run-ins with law enforcement after he was released from prison.

The Kings took it a step further by delivering harsh words in court about Gardner’s mother, Catherine Osborn, who lives in Rancho Bernardo, not far from where the defendant ambushed Chelsea during her after-school run.

Osborn, a psychiatric nurse, knew what her son was capable of but did nothing to stop him, even after Amber disappeared while he was living in Escondido, Kelly King said.

“Your mother will always be intertwined with your horrific crimes because she did nothing,” she said.

Osborn, sitting in the front row of the courtroom audience, remained still when the comments were made.

Carrie McGonigle, Amber’s mother, said the “love and security has been ripped out of the life’’ of her younger daughter.”

“You have taken my daughter and my best friend,” McGonigle said. “You have taken my youngest daughter’s role model and her innocence. You have taken a bright shining star from this community and our world, for what purpose? To serve your sick, twisted and perverted mind.”

Maurice Dubois, Amber’s father, compared the defendant to a lion whose predatory tendencies came naturally, so it was no surprise the killings came soon after he was released from parole.

“Less than five months later, John Gardner forcefully abducted, brutally beat, physically raped and heartlessly discarded our beautiful 14-year-old girl, Amber Dubois,” her father said.

Maurice Dubois sobbed and was confronted by longtime girlfriend Rebecca Smith as the video on his daughter’s life was played.

David Cave, Amber’s stepfather, said the terrible price paid by the families was shared by the volunteers who searched for the girls.

“The cowardly pattern I noticed is you beat up girls — little girls,” Cave said. “It seems you tried to grab an adult once but she whipped your ass so you went back to children.”

Moncayo tearfully asked the judge “to make us a little safer by locking him up permanently.” She said she had deep sympathy for the Dubois and King families.

“Their sacrifices are utterly unimaginable and truly there are no words to describe the depths of despair and sorrow we have all experienced because of this man,” she said.

She got a rise out of the defendant by asking Gardner how his nose was, referencing the broken nose she gave him that allowed her to escape.

He looked up and cocked his head, then glared straight ahead with his lips turned down.

When the time came to pronounce sentence, Judge David Danielsen ordered Gardner to be “permanently” transported to the Department of Corrections.

The hearing took place in a courtroom packed with family members, law enforcement and reporters. A nearby courtroom served as a staging area for television and radio stations that broadcast the sentencing live.

A third courtroom, the Presiding Department, which has the largest number of seats in the courthouse, was opened for members of the public to watch the proceedings on a wide-screen television.

A block of Union Street between the County Courthouse and the Hall of Justice was closed in the morning and jam-packed with television satellite trucks.

Among those in attendance to witness the sentencing were Brenda van Dam, the mother of 7-year-old Danielle van Dam, who was kidnapped and killed by neighbor David Westerfield.

Van Dam said crimes like Gardner are very hard to explain the surviving siblings of the victims.

Outside court after the sentencing, van Dam said she wishes she had never heard Gardner’s voice in an interview with KFMB-TV.

“He’s a piece of scum,” van Dam said. “And he deserves to rot in hell.”