Chelsea’s Law to propose tougher legislation for sexual predators

Parents of Chelsea King are backing Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher’s (R-75th District) proposal for a new bill that will impose stricter mandates on convicted sex offenders. They are also calling for greater oversight and accountability of the state’s parole system which many believe is failing to crack down on violators. 

Chelsea, the 17-year-old Poway resident who went for a jog at a community park north of San Diego in late February, never returned home. Authorities soon after found her body buried near Lake Hodges. John Albert Gardner III was taken into custody days prior to the horrific discovery and has since been charged with raping and murdering King.

Gardner, a registered sex offender, has pleaded not guilty to the charges. He is also under investigation for the death of Amber Dubois, who disappeared Feb.13, 2009, while walking to school in Escondido.

Brent and Kelly King are outraged at a parole and corrections system which they feel failed their daughter. Together with Fletcher, their representative in Sacramento, they are determined to reform the laws which govern the sentencing of sex offenders and the way in which these individuals are monitored when they are released from prison.

Last Friday, Chelsea’s father told two morning TV news shows that he wants to see laws that restrict registered sex offenders from being around children.

“Everything is on the table: longer prison sentences, a better system of probation, a strengthened one-strike provision, changes in our parole system, online reporting, GPS monitoring,” Fletcher said at a news conference last week.

The assemblyman was unable to be reached at his district office (the Assembly is now in Spring Recess), but his press secretary reiterated to CAIVN that the legislator is exploring all angles, adding, “the direction we are looking to go is definitely in regards to sentence reform and parole reform as well as lifetime GPS monitoring for the most serious sex offenders who are released from prison.”

In 1994, Congress passed the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act, placing a mandate on states to adopt sex offender registration laws. Two years later, President Clinton signed Megan’s Law, requiring those convicted of sexual crimes against children to register with local authorities. The law also compels each state to make private and personal information on registered sex offenders available to the public. States have the discretion to establish the exact criteria for disclosure.

Gardner registered in Riverside County after being released on parole for molesting his 13-year-old neighbor – charges to which he pleaded guilty in 2000. The home where that assault took place resides in the same neighborhood where Chelsea was last seen.

In spite of a mental health evaluation which recommended a maximum sentence of ten years for his crime (citing a high likelihood that he would re-offend), Gardner served five years of a six year prison term. The threat rating of two out of a possible ten that the state Department of Corrections established for Gardner upon his release failed to take this report into account. State records indicate he was on parole until September of 2008.

Robert Ambroselli, Director of Parole Operations recently told San Diego 6 news that monitoring sex offenders was a “community problem” the scope of which reached far beyond his office. “We are a 10% answer in a 100% issue,” he claimed, pointing to the fact that of the estimated 70,000 sex offenders residing in California, only about 7,400 are on parole under his supervision.

He also reminded reporters that Gardner was not on parole when he allegedly killed King.

 The Undersecretary of Operations for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Scott Kernan told the news channel, “The reality is if an offender has been a monster, like Gardner — is bent on hurting our children — nothing that probation, parole, or law enforcement — as long as he is free — is going to stop it.”

It was recently discovered that Gardner maintained a MySpace web page despite a parole order banning him from the web. Records show he was also in violation of his parole on several occasions for drug and driving offenses.

‘Chelsea’s Law’ is expected to be introduced in the coming weeks.