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King/Dubois Slayings, Housing Market Topped Local Headlines In 2010

Audio

Aired 12/29/10

We speak to KPBS Investigative Reporter Amita Sharma about one of the top local stories of the year, the tragic slayings of teenagers Chelsea King and Amber Dubois. Plus, we speak to Reporter Peggy Pico about the top bio-techonology and science stories of the year. And, Reporter Tom Fudge gives us a recap of the top housing and transportation issues of 2010.

We speak to KPBS Investigative Reporter Amita Sharma about one of the top local stories of the year, the tragic slayings of teenagers Chelsea King and Amber Dubois. Plus, we speak to Reporter Peggy Pico about the top bio-techonology and science stories of the year. And, Reporter Tom Fudge gives us a recap of the top housing and transportation issues of 2010.

Guests

Amita Sharma, KPBS Investigative Reporter.

Peggy Pico, KPBS Science and Technology Reporter.

Tom Fudge, KPBS News Reporter, and author of the "On-Ramp" blog on KPBS.org.

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Good morning, I'm Dwane Brown sitting in for Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Just a reminder, we won't be taking any phone calls on the program this morning because we're looking back at some of the top news stories of 2010. On the national scene, the nine-year war escalated in Afghanistan and continued in Iraq, we had dramatic results in the midterm elections, and president Obama signs historic laws reforming healthcare and repealing the ban on gays in the military. There were plenty of local stories as well, covered by our band of KPBS reporters. From an Easter earthquake that caused significant damage along both sides of the border, to a rare and relentless series of rainstorms last week, that knocked out power and flooded much of Mission Valley, snarling traffic and generally causing havoc. KPBS senior reporter -- or rather news editor, mark sour, spent some time discussing the big stories and developments of the year with some of our reporters, Amita Sharma covered the tragic slayings of teenagers, Chelsea King and Amber DuBois. Peggy Pico takes a closer look at the biotech and science industry, and KPBS reporter Tom Fudge is focussing his web blog on housing and transportation.

SAUER: Amita, the murder of two teen girls dominated the headlines this year. Tell us about those cases.

SHARMA: Well, in late number of this year, a girl we the name of Chelsea King, she was 14 years old, represent for a run in the middle of the afternoon, she never returned. Of days later, her body was discovered in a park in Rancho Bernardo. A sex offender by the name of John gardener, a convicted sex offender, was arrested, he later confused to raping and murdering Chelsea King. He also confessed to raping and stabbing Amber DuBois. He was a 14-year-old girl who had disappeared on her way to school a year earlier in February of '09. It had been this huge mystery for law enforcement in the county as to what happened to Amber DuBois, and John Gardener confessed to killing her. He -- he pleaded guilty to the two murders in order to avoid the death penalty. He is now serving two life terms in prison without the possibility of parole.

SAUER: Do you think his decision to plead to those murders had anything at all to do about his concern for the families or his concern for his own hide?

SHARMA: His concern for his own hide.

SAUER: And as you say, this was one of the biggest stories of the year, what does this case issue the gardener case, if anything, tell us about the criminal justice system.

SHARMA: Well, this case revealed a lot. The case of John Gardener revealed a lot about the criminal justice system. First, we learned that back in 2000 when John gardener pleaded guilty to molesting and beating a 13-year-old girl, a psychiatrist who evaluated him at the time said that he should be given the maximum punishment. Why? Because he was unrepentant. He did not show any remorse for what he had done. The maximum punishment in that case would have been ten years. Prosecutors and the defense cut a deal, and they said six years was the sentence that gardener should have. The judge agreed. So that was one issue. The second issue that we learned, the inspector general went back and looked at the electronic monitoring data from John gardener's GPS anklet that he had when he was on parole after he was released from prison for the 2000 crime. And it showed that he violated curfew 158 times. That data also showed that he hung out at playgrounds, that he hung out at parks, near schools, he was not supposed to do that as a convicted sex offender on parole. It also showed that he made 13 trips to remote regions in the county. 6 or 5 months after he was discharged from parole, Amber DuBois was murdered. . Her body was found near an area where he had made one of those trips.

SAUER: Now, not to play devil's advocate, but in realistic terms, what kind of a case load did his parole officer had? Who's monitoring that? Is it reasonable to think that --

SHARMA: Well, now, the inspector general said it was reasonable to think that parole agents would have caught that. That they would have known that he had taken these trips, that they would have known that he was hanging out near play grounds, near schools, near parks. In reality, do parole agents have time to monitor whereabouts of each convicted sense offender? I think if you did a study, you would find out that they don't.

SAUER: Now, what changes in the law did the deaths of these two girls bring about?

SHARMA: The biggest change was Chelsea's law, named after Chelsea King. And it mandates a life sentence without the possibility of parole for violent sex offenders who attack children. It also requires a longer period of GPS monitoring for convicted sex offenders who attack children. The second issue is that if the parents of murdered children ask for autopsy reports to be sealed, they can be sealed.

SAUER: Now, were there some unintended consequences of those laws if I recall a story later in the year tucked about some of these folks getting out of prison and really have no place to live because of the 2000 feet from XY and Z rule. And now they're in the wind, and we can't really monitor or follow them.

SHARMA: That was an unattended consequence of Megan's law, which said they couldn't live near parks and said they couldn't live near schools. So as a result you had convicted sexual offenders not being able to find a place to live, and so they had become homeless people, which, police officers said, made them often more menacing to society.

SAUER: That was KPBS reporter Amita Sharma. The biotechnology field and science in general always generate news in San Diego, as do the complex and challenging issues of housing and transportation. Joining me now are KPBS reporters Peggy Pico and Tom Fudge. Peggy, what are some of the stand out stories from 2010 on your beat?

PICO: Well, mark, it was a great year for science and technology. One of the best things that happened is this fast and cheap DNA testing, as I like to call it. Life Technologies in Carlsbad now charges about $3,000, and it takes about two weeks to get your entire DNA genome mapped. What that means is all of your DNA completely mapped.

FUDGE: $3,000 for all three billion base pairs.

PICO: Exactly. Of $3,000 for three billion -- how could you get a better deal for that?

FUDGE: How much is that per allele? Someone has to do the math.

PICO: That part wouldn't be me, but -- and they expect this DNA testing to get 23569er and cheaper. And what that means to you is that that means that as far as disease and researches and drug treatments will be faster and cheaper as well.

SAUER: And we had another interesting story this year, the don't touch my junk came into the lexicon. Tell us about the airport scanners?

PICO: That's right. The don't touch my junk, the airport radiation scanners, that actually was a big one. And I actually did quite a bit of research for radiation on this. And surprisingly, the result this, you'd have to walk through that scanner 1000 times to get the same amount of radiation you'd get from a standard chest X-ray. So 1000 times equals a standard chest x-ray, or another way you could look at it if you're travelling this holiday season is that you would have to take -- be up in the air two minutes at about 30000 feet, and that's the same amount of radiation get from the cosmos.

FUDGE: Right. But how many times would you have to walk through it to have your DNA sequenced?

PICO: I don't know, but you could to it fast and cheap.

SAUER: We'll do a follow-up on that. Now you also had a remarkable experience out at the -- what was once the wild animal park; the safari park now with the young tigers.

PICO: That's correct, mark. I have to say, this ended up being on my bucket list, and I didn't even know it was going to be. I was sitting in the middle of a tiger den, 28-week old kittens, and you wouldn't think that would be a thrill. But it really was. Thank goodness the mom was gone. She human lured outside with half a leg bone from a cow or something. And we were glad about that. So we were sitting there, and these two little tiger cubs, majell and Joanne were all over us, and teaching us basically about tigers. And that was important pause there's less than 4000 tigers left, of all species, in the entire world. And you put that into perspective, you can imagine what just 4000 people would look like spread out over the word. So the risk of them going extinct in our lifetime in the next ten years actually is very, very high. And these two cubs are part of that conservation effort in the sense of keeping the DNA pools diverse among the tiger population. So if there is a point in the future, they can be reintroduced. They will be.

FUDGE: And so the San Diego zoo is doing their part to try to reintroduce them into the wild? Is that what they want to do?

PICO: Well, they're keeping the gene pool alive, in the sense that they can't reintroduce them now because of habitat and poaching threats, they would be annihilated the second they were dropped off into the jungles, and that's part of the problem. This is a global effort though, Tom, because Vladimir Putin is actually spearheading an international effort to save tigers worldwide. So you've got Russia on board, you've got about 12 other countries on board, and everybody is just trying to get the word out, save the tigers.

SAUER: Are those young tigers on display now? The public can go see them?

PICO: By the end of the month they should be. By the end of January. The reason is, just like any other kittens or pups or cubs, they need to be vaccinated. There's actually enough out there that could really hurt them. So they definitely have to be vaccinated first.

SAUER: Well, Tom, you've got an entering assignment now on KPBS.org, our website. Tell us about what on-ramp is.

FUDGE: Well, on-ramp is a blog. And what's a blog? Well, a blog as I see it, is a new way to do journalism. It's a way that is more personal, more opinionated and more drawn out. Of and what I mean by drawn out is not that you write really long stories, but a blog is -- the approach we take to writing a blog is that you cover a story, and you write something small about it, and then the next day, you write something to follow up on that, and then the next day, you write to follow up on that. People who do blogs and journalism say it's not the story, it's the stream. So if you go to a blog, you wouldn't just read one thing. You would read a series of stories, of anecdotes about some subject. So it's a new approach to journalism, and I think be one that's kind of exciting.

SAUER: Now, as you've gotten your sea legs and moved along through this, you're starting to focus a little more on housing and transportation.

FUDGE: Yeah, that's right that's right, I think because there is a need for that in the KPBS news room. Well, you know, that's true. If you may say. But I really feel that where we make our homes and how we get around town really has a lot to say about the look and the feel of our communities, I think it has a lot to say, also, about how we solve certain environment 58 problems like global warming.

PICO: And it's certainly changing in San Diego, I know I've lived here, I grew up here, and you see the different neighborhoods and people are trying to populate the different neighborhoods, that you wouldn't once think, you know, New York park, south park, these renovations, but people want neighborhoods, and I that want them in a specific way, and you want to be able to walk to your cough tee shop. So things are certainly changing.

FUDGE: Yes, that's correct, and I think one thing mark was gonna ask me about is a new plan for transportation that was just passed by SANDAG, the San Diego association of governments who just 1 or 2 weeks ago gave us an outline of how $110 billion in government funding are gonna be spend on transportation over the next 40 years, and a lot of that does include transit. There's about two and a half billion dollars for walking and cycling project the of but also there is the dreaded expansion of I-5 to 14 lanes.

SAUER: So you've got -- kind of at cross purposes, aren't they?

FUDGE: Well, that's what some folks say. People who are in favor of what they call transit first, they say, look, if you solve the problem of congestion on our freeways, people aren't gonna use transit. So don't be adding lanes to I-5 if you expect people to take the new trolley routes.

SAUER: And critics are pointing that out as the hearings progress?

FUDGE: Yeah, yeah. Uh-huh. Yeah, now, this is not all a done deal, we're gonna be talking approximate this plan for the next, I don't know how many years. But we do have an outline of how money is gonna be spent over quite a few decades.

SAUER: Of course, housing is connected to transportations we're talking about. What was 2010 like for housing?

FUDGE: Well, 2010 was a time when the San Diego housing market really kind of hit, I don't know if I on the other hand say equilibrium, but hit kind of a plateau. It had been diving drastically since 2006 when the housing sort of -- when the housing prices got extremely high and they have been diving since then. We did have a couple of months where housing prices in San Diego actually went up a little bit during 2010, but one real estate expert said, that's a dead cat bounce. There is still this thing that they call the shadow inventory of homes in San Diego, where people are under water on their homes, they owe more than their homes are worth. And we're expecting a new round of foreclosures that is probably gonna make that median price of homes go down even further.

PICO: And that's good news for people like me who, my realtor has been watching it carefully. I'm trying to buy. And he's like, do buy, no, don't buy. And it's going back and forth, but really what I have been told is next year, next year is the time.

FUDGE: And I'm glad you brought that up because a lot of people talk about the valley of housing in San Diego, and when that goes down, it's bad news. Well, it's not bad news if you want to buy a house.

PICO: Not for me.

FUDGE: The nice thing about prices right now is houses in San Diego are still extensive compared to Indianapolis is Des Moines. But they're as affordable as they were right now in, like, 1999, 1998.

BROWN: Thanks to KPBS senior news editor, Mark Sauer, and reporter Amita Sharma, Peggy Pico, and Tom Pico. I'm Dwane Brown. Tomorrow the focus will be on our extending coverage of border issues. Coming up next, Maureen Cavanaugh talks about how to protect your privacy on the web. You're listening to These Days in San Diego.

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