Originally published April 16, 2010 at 2:54 p.m., updated April 16, 2010 at 6:12 p.m.
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John Gardner Court Documents
SAN DIEGO The man arrested for attacking and killing San Diego County teenagers Chelsea King and Amber Dubois pleaded guilty to all charges against him today. He made the guilty pleas to avoid the death penalty.
Gardener hung his head as he entered guilty pleas on all counts. He admitted to raping and strangling King and burying her in a shallow grave. He also admitted to killing Dubois with premeditation. That ends speculation that someone else was involved. San Diego County Superior Court Judge David Danielson offered the first public details of the crimes.
“As to Count Three, you admit that you took Amber Dubois to a remote area in Pala, where you raped and stabbed her. You then buried her in a shallow grave. Do you admit the truth to those facts?” Danielson asked.
“Yes.” Gardener said.
“And you further admit that this killing was done with pre-mediation and deliberation?” Danielson asked.
“Yes.” Gardener said.
Life Sentence And Closure
Gardner, 31, will avoid facing the death penalty. Instead, he will be sentenced to two consecutive life sentences in prison without the possibility of parole. He also pleaded guilty and faces more jail time for assaulting another young woman in December.
Sentencing was set for June 1.
Prosecutor Kristen Spieler told the judge the victims' families agreed to the plea agreement.
Brent King said it was difficult to support a deal that took the death penalty off the table. "We stand here because of a despicable, horrible act committed against our beautiful daughter Chelsea, against our family and against our community," King said. "The decision to give our blessing to the District Attorney’s proposal was tortuous."
King said he and his wife didn’t want to put their son through a lengthy trial. Amber’s parents said they’re thankful for a resolution to the case. They said the deal provides them with justice and closure.
Gardner Ended A Long Search
Amber vanished in February 2009, and the investigation produced few solid leads until Chelsea disappeared Feb. 25 during an afternoon run in a San Diego park about 10 miles south of the site where Amber vanished.
Gardner was arrested three days after Chelsea disappeared. He initially pleaded not guilty in her killing.
In a surprising turn, Gardner admitted Friday to kidnapping, raping and stabbing Amber. He also admitted dragging Chelsea to a remote area where he raped, strangled and buried her.
Chelsea's body was discovered March 2 in a shallow lakeside grave after a massive search. Prosecutors said Gardner was linked to the crime by DNA found on Chelsea's clothing.
Amber's bones were discovered March 6 in a rugged, remote area north of San Diego. She vanished with a $200 check to purchase a lamb she was going to raise for Future Farmers of America. The check was never cashed.
San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said Friday that Gardner led authorities to Amber Dubois' body. She said Gardner agreed to lead authorities to the body on the condition that they could not use that information against him in court. Dumanis says it was a difficult decision, but prosecutors had no other evidence or DNA to link him to the death of Dubois.
A Long History
Gardner served five years in prison after pleading guilty in 2000 to molesting a 13-year-old neighbor girl. Records show he later violated parole by moving too close to a school but was allowed to remain free.
Gardner's history of parole violations has led to calls to strengthen California's already stringent laws on sex predators.
Chelsea's parents, Brent and Kelly King, have traveled to Sacramento to announce the introduction of "Chelsea's Law," which would send some child molesters to prison for life after a first conviction and monitor others with tracking technology until they die.
Ana Tintocalis/KPBS, Katie Orr/KPBS, and Leng Caloh/KPBS, and Elliot Spagat/Associated Press contributed to this story.