Update: Gardner pleaded guilty to both murders in court. Read the updated story.
Friday, April 16, 2010
SAN DIEGO A sex offender charged with raping and killing a 17-year-old Poway High School senior is scheduled for court hearing today.
Court officials declined to comment on this afternoon's scheduled status conference for John Albert Gardner III, 31.
A gag order is in effect, but Los Angeles radio station KFI-AM 640 reported that authorities who searched Gardner's Lake Elsinore home seized some clothing and digging tools, such as pickaxes and shovels. The report was based on a leaked document.
Authorities also searched Gardner's mother's home in Rancho Bernardo, a storage unit in Escondido and a car belonging to Gardner's girlfriend, according to KFI.
Gardner 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 -- not far from Gardner's mother's home.
Gardner is also charged with sexually assaulting a woman in the same park Dec. 27.
The defendant was sentenced to six years in prison in 2000 after pleading guilty to assaulting a 13-year-old girl at his mother's home. He was released after five years.
The District Attorney's Office said it offered Gardner a plea deal to spare his young victim from testifying at trial. The offer came despite a psychiatrist's recommendation that Gardner receive the maximum sentence of 30 years in prison because he showed no remorse and would continue to be a threat to children.
At the time of Gardner's arrest in the King case, 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.