Posted: Mar 4, 2010 11:46 AM by Bea Karnes, News First 5
Updated: Mar 4, 2010 11:46 AM
When a registered sex offender was arraigned Wednesday for the murder and sexual assault of a 17-year-old California girl, one of the spectators in the courtroom was the father of another teenage girl from the same area who has been missing for just over a year.
Maurice Dubois knows that the accused murderer of 17-year-old Chelsea King, 30-year-old John Albert Gardner III, could also be responsible for the February 2009 disappearance of his daughter, Amber. He hopes that's not the case.
"Seeing what this monster is capable of, we don't want any connection to Amber," Dubois said.
Amber was 14 when she disappeared in Escondido, Calif., near San Diego. Despite massive searches and a $100,000 reward, neither she nor her body has been found, and no one has been charged in her disappearance.
Among the sex offenders registered in the area whom police say they interviewed was Gardner.
Dubois holds out hope that Amber is still alive. But he admitted to Vieira that there are what he called "eerie similarities" between the two girls.
"Both girls are 5-5, both girls are 130 pounds, both white, both beautiful girls," Dubois said. He also pointed out the geographic proximity: "The location of the two - less than seven and a half miles between the two incidents. So, yeah, in the back of our head, we are kind of concerned that there is a connection."
Chelsea King had gone for a jog in a park in Rancho Bernardo, another town in the San Diego area. When she didn't come home on time, her father went looking for her. He found her car, but not his daughter.
Gardner was arrested Sunday. When King's body was found Tuesday in a shallow grave, Gardner was charged with murdering her while either committing or attempting to commit rape. Investigators told reporters that they grabbed Gardner when they got a DNA match to semen found in the victim's underwear. Gardner was also charged with a separate assault with attempt to commit rape on another female jogger in December.
Gardner pleaded not guilty and was ordered held without bail.
Dubois said he went to the arraignment to show support for the King family, and also because Gardner may be connected to Amber's disappearance.
"We really wanted to show our support for the entire King family," Dubois said. "We also don't know if there is any link between Mr. Gardner and Amber. If there is, I want to be there for every moment of his trial."
Dubois said that when he first heard of King's disappearance, he didn't immediately connect it to Amber's case. But when the body was found and details emerged, it struck home.
"It was sickening to us. It just all turned right back to home," he told Vieira.
The case has prompted outrage in the area. Gardner struck a plea bargain in May 2000 on a charge of sexually molesting a 13-year-old female neighbor. He pleaded guilty and was given a six-year prison term, of which he served five years. He could have been sentenced to 11 years.
When King's body was found and Gardner charged, the court-appointed psychiatrist who examined him 10 years ago expressed his anger that the court showed so much leniency to Gardner.
Dr. Matthew Carroll had urged the maximum sentence allowed by law. He said in court documents that Gardner was a "continued danger to underage girls in the community" and an "extremely poor candidate" for treatment.
Dr. Mark Kalish, who shares an office with Carroll, said his colleague was saddened and angered by the news about Gardner, feeling his advice had been ignored.
"He didn't want there to be any ambiguity or doubt about his assessment. He laid it out there and he was essentially ignored by the district attorney's office," Kalish said. "How much bigger a red flag could Dr. Carroll have raised?"