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Legal Experts Say 1-Strike Law For Sex Offenders Already Exists


Aired 3/10/10

The deaths of 17-year-old Chelsea King and 14-year-old Amber Dubois have spawned a local movement to lobby for a law to lock up sexual predators for life. But legal experts say those laws are already on the books. The courts are not enforcing them.

— The deaths of 17-year-old Chelsea King and 14-year-old Amber Dubois have spawned a local movement to lobby for a law to lock up sexual predators for life. But legal experts say those laws are already on the books. The courts are not enforcing them.

Amber Dubois (L) and Chelsea King

Above: Amber Dubois (L) and Chelsea King

Escondido mother Karen Doll-Murphy wants sexual predators put away for good after one conviction. She’s started a Facebook campaign that’s drawn more than 5,000 people.

“I think they’re furious and they’re very, very scared for their children.”

The fury and fear come from the details. Convicted sex offender John Gardner has been charged with murdering and raping Chelsea King. Her body was found in a shallow grave in Rancho Bernardo Community Park where she had gone for a run. Gardner is also a focus of an investigation into the death of Amber Dubois.

Doll-Murphy says the two murders have pushed people to their tipping point on how the legal system manages sex offenders.

“It has been proven time and time again that they get out and they re-offend and they re-offend. They get caught sometimes and sometimes they don’t. But if you go on Megan’s Law and you look and see who is in your neighborhood, you’re going to find offenders, not just one-strikers. You’re going to find many of them who have been caught two, three, four times and it’s not right.”

San Diego therapist David Peters says some sexual predators can be rehabilitiated, but not all.

“Some have more of a sociopathic personality. For those, they don’t feel guilt. They’re not going to feel guilt and they need to merely be controlled by society, the law, the legal system.”

And that is the category that experts say King’s murder suspect John Gardner fit in. In 2000, he pleaded guilty to committing a lewd act on a child. The victim was 13 at the time. According to court papers, the girl said Gardner tried to force himself on her sexually while he beat her repeatedly in the head. The girl told prosecutors Gardner put his hand on her mouth so she couldn’t breathe and she wasn’t sure if she blacked out. She managed to escape while half-clothed. Prosecutors say Gardner later showed no remorse.

Local criminal defense attorney Gerald Blank says Gardner’s crime 10 years ago qualified him under terms of a 1994 law that puts violent sex offenders away after one conviction -- the very law that the Escondido mom and other parents are clamoring for.

“He would have come under the one-strike law. He could have been put away for life in 2000 by the prosecution.”

But instead, Gardner’s prosecutor cut a plea deal and asked for six years. This even though the prosecution’s own filings say Gardner would re-offend if he was not imprisoned. Criminal defense lawyer Blank says that was a big mistake.

“The criminal justice system, in my opinion failed miserably here," said Blank. "The prosecution could have been put John Gardner away even under the plea bargain and he would not have been on our streets at the time Chelsea King was killed.”

Blank also blames the court which he says could have rejected terms of the plea bargain.

“A court has the right to say I’ve looked at this person I think he’s so dangerous, I decline to go along with the deal. I decline to sentence him to the number of years the two of you have agreed upon and therefore the defendant can withdraw his plea or he can let me sentence him. But I’m not sticking with this plea bargain period.”

Both the prosecutor David Hendren and Judge Peter Deddeh who presided over the 2000 case are subject to a gag order. Neither would comment for this story.

Blank says people need to be educated that one-strike laws for sex offenders already exist.

“When a horrible thing happens like the Chelsea King situation or the Amber Dubois situation, people rally and cry for stronger laws without first checking to see whether there is another flaw in the system and I believe there is a flaw in the system that can’t be covered by the law.”

And that flaw, Blank says, is not applying the laws that are already on the books properly.

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Avatar for user 'MSLGWCEO'

MSLGWCEO | March 10, 2010 at 9:41 a.m. ― 6 years, 11 months ago

Write all the laws you want. They will not prevent anyone from committing a crime, if they are determined to do so. In fact, the harsh laws encourage the killing of a victim, because dead people cannot testify. Unless there is some kind of evidence to direct investigators to the Perp. So, how do you tell who might be dangerous? While nothing is 100 percent in this world, we must concentrate on the most dangerous.

1. The VIOLENT offender.

2. The REPEAT offender.

3. The offender who DID NOT KNOW their victim.

If you notice. The vast majority of these most heinous sexual assaults, fall into 1 or all three categories. We are wasting all the resources on the low to no risk while the predators are hiding in the registry.

This is so simple and so to the point! When people say, "Well, we can't get rid of the register, what do you think we should do?" Answer, if we need a public register at all, and I truly don't think the public has proven that they can handle it, then the only ones on it should be those that fell into the categories above!

California has a HUGE amount of registered sex offenders. Punishing all of them for the acts of one individual does not make sense.

He and he alone should be punished. If found guilty, he and he alone should suffer the consequences of this murder.

That's supposed to be the American Justice system.

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Avatar for user 'shoshi'

shoshi | March 10, 2010 at 2:31 p.m. ― 6 years, 11 months ago

Your presentation on one strike law is not exactly correct, KPBS. The Jacob Wetterling Act of 1994 is for "registering" sex offenders only. If you're found to be sex offender, the first time, your name goes in the registry. No second chances given. It has nothing to do with a 1 strike and you go to jail, which is what I and many others would like to see. The registry doesn't work in terms of prevention. It's a great in that it allows the public to be aware, if they choose to be, by searching the registry to see if there is a sex offender in their neighborhood.

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Avatar for user 'shoshi'

shoshi | March 10, 2010 at 2:41 p.m. ― 6 years, 11 months ago

MSLGWCEO, you're right. Laws, in these cases, do not prevent pedophiles from acting on their impulse. Since they cannot control themselves and their nature and make up is to be predacious towards children, they need to be locked up the very first time they are found to be guilty of molesting or abusing a child. They NEED to be put away for life! It seems that the more chances they get the worse they become. Gardner, like others, started out molesting young girls. He then moved up to rape and now possibly rape and murder of not one but possibly two and who knows how many more. He committed these crimes in broad day light in public places. He felt empowered. He was empowered and he got his power from the legal system.

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Avatar for user 'RSO'

RSO | March 11, 2010 at 11:02 a.m. ― 6 years, 11 months ago

It is very disappointing that KPBS has joined the main stream media's feeding frenzy on the issue of sex offenders. What I believed at one time to be a format of progressive thinking, has succumbed to the fear of a very few dangerous individuals and a hysterical public. You have become part of the mob mentality without any regard to the facts on sexual offenses. You just pass on the myths as they were passed on to you without searching for the truth first. But then again, who wants to learn the truth if it dispels a myth about a despised person.

Painting all sex offenders with a broad brush is like treating a cut on the arm with a full body cast. We have families and friends that refuse to allow people like shoshi to force them to abandon their loved ones based solely on the myth that they have a mental impairment that can't be repaired. The fact is the majority of us have nothing more wrong with our mental capacity then a temporary case of poor judgment that did not involve any violence whatsoever.

Hundreds of thousands of us go on with our lives without ever committing another sex crime. The media doesn't report those statistics because the public doesn't want to hear them. They want to condemn us, and anyone that sympathizes with us because of their own fears that they may be what they despise. I know this to be fact because I was on the other side of the fence at one time.

I'll leave you with this quote, and just maybe it might provoke rational thought. Question why our politicians can react so quickly on this issue, but allow so many others to go unresolved.

“The state must declare the child to be the most precious treasure of the people. As long as the government is perceived as working for the benefit of the children, the people will happily endure almost any curtailment of liberty and almost any deprivation.”

Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler, Publ. Houghton Miflin, 1943, Page 403. This quote is not found in any online copy of Mein Kampf.

Become part of the solution, not part of the problem.

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Avatar for user 'Johnn09'

Johnn09 | August 13, 2010 at 11:17 p.m. ― 6 years, 6 months ago

It is real unsatisfying that KPBS has connected the primary movement media's uptake frenzy on the income of sex offenders. What I believed at one case to be a arrange of tense thinking, has succumbed to the fearfulness of a very few hazardous individuals and a neurotic exoteric.
One Law Center

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