Suspect in Calif. missing teen case linked to other assault

Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Volunteers stand in line waiting to register at the search center for missing teenager Chelsea King Tuesday March 2, 2010 in San Diego. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

SAN DIEGO -- A registered sex offender suspected in the disappearance of 17-year-old Chelsea King likely assaulted a jogger in December in the same park where the search for King is centered, police said Tuesday.

The 22-year-old Colorado woman managed to fend off her attacker Dec. 27 in Rancho Bernardo Community Park on the northern edge of San Diego, the same site where King's 1994 BMW was found with her belongings inside, police Capt. Jim Collins said.

Police said evidence has linked 30-year-old John Albert Gardner III to both cases, but further details have not been released.

Collins, however, said a swab taken from the elbow of the Colorado woman did not match Gardner's DNA.

Gardner is now in custody without bail for investigation of murder and rape in the disappearance of King, as thousands of authorities and volunteers search for her.

Gardner of Lake Elsinore pleaded guilty in May 2000 to molesting a 13-year-old female neighbor. Prosecutors said he lured the victim to his home with an offer to watch "Patch Adams," a 1998 movie starring Robin Williams.

The girl was beaten before escaping and running to a neighbor.

Gardner served five years in prison after prosecutors rejected a psychiatrist's advice to seek stiffer punishment, court documents state.

Prosecutors said in 2000 that Gardner's lack of a significant prior criminal record justified less than the maximum sentence. They also said they wanted to "spare the victim the trauma of testifying."

Gardner had faced a maximum of nearly 11 years in prison under terms of his plea agreement. Prosecutors urged six years -- the sentence later ordered by a judge.

In their 11-page sentencing memo, prosecutors said Gardner "never expressed one scintilla of remorse for his attack upon the victim" despite overwhelming evidence.

Psychiatrist Dr. Matthew Carroll wrote in sentencing documents, "There is no known treatment for an individual that sexually assaults girls and does not admit to it in any way."

Paul Pfingst, the San Diego County district attorney in 2000, said he had no memory of the case but added a six-year sentence was not unusual for someone with no significant prior criminal record.

State records showed Gardner was released from prison Sept. 26, 2005, and was on parole for three years.

Chelsea King is a straight-A student at Poway High School who plays French horn for the San Diego Youth Symphony, competes on her school cross-country team and volunteers in a peer counseling program.

In an interview Monday with The Associated Press, the Kings, who also have a 13-year-old son, recounted learning Thursday that their daughter had disappeared.

Brent King had returned from the gym around 5:30 p.m., the same time his wife, Kelly, 48, got home with groceries. Chelsea, who always kept them advised of her whereabouts, wasn't home.

"Because it was so out of character for Chelsea not to tell us or call us and say I'm going to be late ... we just had that feeling," Brent King said.

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