SAN DIEGO — Convicted sex offender John Albert Gardner III admitted April 16 to killing two North County teenagers.
At a hearing in a downtown San Diego Superior Courtroom, Gardner pleaded guilty to murdering 17-year-old Chelsea King and 14-year-old Amber Dubois. He also pleaded guilty to an assault with the intent to commit rape relating to another female jogger last December in the Lake Hodges area.
In light of his plea, Gardner faces life in prison without parole and has waived his right to an appeal. He admitted to the crimes after prosecutors agreed not to pursue the death penalty.
Gardner, 31, admitted to the kidnapping, rape and killing of Dubois as well as the rape and murder of King. Prior to his plea, Gardner had not been charged with Dubois’ murder because of insufficient evidence to link him to the crime. Prosecutors said both families agreed to the plea deal.
King’s body was found March 2 in a shallow grave a short distance from her car in Rancho Bernardo Community Park. King, a senior at Poway High School, had vanished Feb. 25 while running near Lake Hodges. Police arrested Gardner three days later in Escondido after linking DNA on an article of King’s clothing found at the crime scene to him.
Following his arraignment for King’s murder on March 3, Gardner agreed to lead police to the bones of Dubois, who vanished in February 2009 while walking to school. Under his agreement with authorities, they could not use that information against him in court or go public with it; however, prosecutors were still able to use any evidence found at the crime scene to build their case. Despite their efforts, officials were not able to gather enough evidence to charge Gardner with the murder of Dubois.
Gardner’s plea agreement comes just 10 years after his last plea deal for the sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl in his parents’ Rancho Bernardo home where he had been living at that time. In that case, Gardner served five years of a six-year prison term and upon his release in 2005 was placed on probation for three years.
At the time of King’s death Gardner had been living with his parents in Rancho Bernardo despite being listed as a Lake Elsinore resident. Coincidentally, when Dubois vanished, authorities said Gardner resided in Escondido.
A sentencing date was set for June 1.