Legislation aimed at toughening restrictions on violent sexual predators, and named after a slain Poway High School senior, was unanimously passed by the state Senate today and is headed for the governor’s desk.
“Chelsea’s Law,” introduced by Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, R-San Diego, was named for 17-year-old Chelsea King, who was raped and killed by registered sex offender John Albert Gardner III on Feb. 25 near Rancho Bernardo Community Park.
AB 1844 calls for mandatory life sentences for forcible violent sex crimes against children. It would also tighten sex offense parole guidelines and require lifelong tracking of certain sex offenders.
Chelsea’s parents, Brent and Kelly King, released a statement after the Senate’s 33-0 vote.
“The collective hard work by Assemblyman Fletcher, his bipartisan legislative partners and impassioned Californians is culminating in a historical outcome with tangible benefits to our state’s children,” they said. “Chelsea’s larger-than-life legacy is helping to fulfill her and our dreams for positive change.”
Gardner pleaded guilty to Chelsea’s murder and also that of 14-year-old Amber Dubois in 2009. Authorities said that before the killings, they missed many opportunities to return Gardner to prison for parole violations.
“It is extremely difficult, no matter what you do, to follow someone who is on parole every minute, every hour, of every day,” Sen. Mark Wyland, R- Carlsbad, said on the Senate floor. “This bill addresses that and moves things forward.”
Wyland said he plans to introduce a bill next year to improve the psychological evaluations used to determine whether a prison inmate should be released back into the community. The current evaluation is “so poor” and is poorly administered by the Department of Corrections, he said.
The senator also called for more indeterminate sentences that would give authorities discretion on whether to release a convict.
Gardner was convicted in 2000 of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old neighbor girl and sentenced to six years in prison. After his release, he split his time between Escondido and his mother’s house in Rancho Bernardo, and listed a Lake Elsinore address for his sex offender registration form.
He had a number of contacts with law enforcement while he was free but was never returned to prison.
Amber disappeared in February 2009 as she walked to Escondido High School.
Gardner said he raped and stabbed the teen and led authorities to her grave in Pala.
Just over a year later, he accosted Chelsea as she ran along a jogging trail. He conceded that he raped and strangled her, and buried her in a shallow grave beside Lake Hodges.
He was sentenced to two consecutive life terms in prison without the possibility of parole, plus 25 years for attacking a woman last December.
Chelsea’s Law is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger within the next couple of weeks.