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Sex offender violated parole but wasn't sent back to prison

John Albert Gardner III, charged with killing Chelsea King, violated parole in 2007 by living near a school. Officials opted against returning him to prison because he complied with relocation orders.

March 12, 2010|By Richard Marosi

Reporting from San Diego — The sex offender charged with murdering Chelsea King violated parole in 2007 by living near a school, but state officials opted against sending him back to prison because he complied with orders to relocate, according to a summary released Thursday by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

John Albert Gardner III was barred from residing within half a mile of an elementary school when his parole officer found him living near a college's day-care center in San Diego County in September 2007.

Gardner moved within two weeks, according to state officials, and avoided a parole hearing process that could have landed him back in prison. He was on parole after serving a five-year sentence for molesting a 13-year-old girl in 2000.

The department's handling of Gardner has come under scrutiny since it was disclosed that officials destroyed his parole file under a policy that has since been reversed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The new disclosures fueled more criticism, with some politicians and victims' rights groups saying that state officials missed an opportunity to keep Gardner from committing more crimes.

Gardner had several potential parole violations, the summary said. He missed a parole meeting, was suspected of marijuana use and had four low-battery alerts from the global positioning system strapped to his body. All were considered minor.

"If we were to return to custody individuals with these types of infractions, the system would not be able to take it," said Oscar Hidalgo, a department spokesman. "We would flood our agents and our parole offices with technical violations that we couldn't sustain. The system itself couldn't sustain it."

The violation of the residency rule could have led to a hearing process with parole officials.

"It never got that far with Gardner," said spokeswoman Terry Thornton, adding that he moved within two weeks of being notified. "If a parole officer gives someone a direct order, move, and the guy moves, there's no reason to revoke him."

Some critics believe other factors were at play. Todd Spitzer, a prosecutor and former state assemblyman from Orange County, said the department has eased up on parole violators because of prison constraints. "They were ignoring public safety with one goal in mind: They were trying to solve the prison overcrowding," Spitzer said.

Gardner, 30, is accused of murdering King, a Poway High School senior, and attempting to rape a woman in December. He is also being investigated in the slaying of 14-year-old Amber Dubois, who disappeared last year and whose skeletal remains were discovered Saturday.

richard.marosi @latimes.com

Times staff writer Michael Rothfeld, in Sacramento, contributed to this report.

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