RANCHO BERNARDO — The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation on March 17 released the central file of convicted sex offender John Albert Gardner III, who is accused of murdering Chelsea King near Lake Hodges.
The 282-page document contains the probation department’s report relating to Gardner’s sentencing for beating his then-13-year-old female neighbor during a sexual assault in 2000 as well as records from prison staff and handwritten notes by the felon defending his actions after being reprimanded for prison violations, which included smoking cigarettes and possessing a butane lighter.
The Department of Corrections decided to release Gardner’s file because they determined public interest outweighed the need to withhold the file, a spokesman with the Department of Corrections said. Under the California Public Records Act, the state is allowed to keep the majority of the central file confidential, and the Department of Corrections generally declines requests to release complete files.
Earlier this month, Gardner pleaded not guilty to the special circumstance murder of 17-year-old Chelsea King, whose body was found in a shallow grave a short distance from her car in Rancho Bernardo Community Park. Gardener is also charged with assaulting another woman in the same park last December and is under investigation for the 2009 disappearance of 14-year-old Amber Dubois. The Escondido teen’s remains were found March 8 near Pala.
If convicted of murder with the special circumstance allegation that the crime was committed for or during a rape, Gardner could be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole. The District Attorney’s Office will make that decision at a later date.
Earlier this month, a judge placed a gag order on Gardner’s case barring attorneys and law enforcement officials from discussing it with the media.
A preliminary hearing is set for August.
Gardner, 30, pleaded guilty in 2000 to the aforementioned sexual assault on his teenage neighbor, whom he described as being like a “sister” to him. In lieu of his plea agreement, he received six years in state prison; however, he was released after five.
Throughout that case, Garner denied any role in the attack, and blamed the girl’s parents for her injuries, according to the central report.
The defendant believes he is “absolutely innocent,” stated Dennis Powell, then a senior probation officer, in the probation report. “He took a plea because three attorneys said that he was going to get reamed if he went to trial.”
Born in Culver City, Gardner moved around Southern California until the age of 7 when his mother moved to Running Springs in the San Bernardino Mountains, where the defendant graduated from Rim of the World High School in 1997 with a 3.2 grade point average.
When Gardner was 5, his parents divorced, and his mom remarried when he was 9; he has four half-sisters, court records state. Additionally, the probation report said that Gardner’s uncle, stepfather and biological father are all alcoholics. During the 2000 case against him, Gardner admitted drinking and smoking marijuana on a regular basis.
In 1998, Gardner moved to San Diego to live with his mother; she and his stepfather had divorced that year. At the time of his arrest in the Chelsea King case, Gardner, who was a registered as a sex offender in Riverside County, had been living with his mother in Rancho Bernardo.
Prior to his sentencing in the 2000 case, a psychological evaluation was performed on Gardner, according to the central report. Dr. Matthew Carroll recommended the highest prison term possible telling the probation department he found that “the defendant manifests significant predatory traits to underage females,” and that sexual offender treatment wouldn’t be of any value, because Gardner would not take responsibility for his actions.
“The defendant does not suffer from a psychotic disorder,” Carroll said. “He is simply a bad guy who is inordinately interested in young girls.”