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Crime

Did the Justice System Fail Chelsea King?

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As John Albert Gardner III pleaded not guilty Wednesday to murdering 17-year-old Chelsea King, the court-appointed psychiatrist who recommended at Gardner’s first sex assault case that he be put away for a long time was furious that his warnings went unheeded.

Dr. Matthew Carroll was appointed by the court in 2000 after Gardner sexually assaulted a 13-year-old neighbor in his mother’s house. Noting that Gardner denied the evidence and showed no remorse, Carroll warned the court Gardner would be a “continued danger to underage girls” and urged the maximum sentence, 30 years.

Instead, Gardener struck a plea deal for six years, was out in five, and wore a GPS device until his parole ended in 2008. Now Gardner, 30, is charged with the murder of King and with a Dec. 27 assault, with the attempt to commit rape, against a jogger who escaped. Investigators were also looking at Gardner in the disappearance of 14-year-old Amber Dubois of Escondido. If convicted on the charges filed Wednesday, Gardner could get the death penalty.
RELATED: Chelsea King’s Body Believed to Have Been Found

‘Frustrated and Angry’

“He’s frustrated and angry they didn’t listen to what he said,” says Dr. Mark Kalish, a psychiatrist who shares offices with Carroll and spoke on his behalf. “He said: ‘Give him the maximum sentence,’ and psychiatrists generally don’t do that.”

He says the prosecutors agreed to the plea deal to avoid the time and trouble of a trial and to spare the victim the trauma of testifying. A San Diego County District Attorney’s spokesman tells PEOPLE the office can t comment on the earlier case because the facts of the prior assault are now a component of the new case.

King disappeared last Thursday and her body was found Tuesday in a shallow grave near the park where she’d gone jogging. Her case has quickly received national attention and outrage, drawing comparisons to other recent high-profile cases, including Jaycee Dugard and Sandra Cantu, in which victims suffered horrible fates after the system allegedly failed to take seriously the threats that the defendants posed to others.

Legal commentator Robin Sax, a former sex crimes prosecutor for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, says most sex offenders are family members and not strangers, and most don’t kill their victims. She says it’s not uncommon for a sex-crimes prosecutor to agree to a plea deal to avoid the risk of losing the case altogether and watching the defendant go free.

However, she adds, she feels that prosecutors often worry too much about subjecting the victim to testifying. “If you warn the victim that if they don’t testify, the rapist goes free, then they do it,” Sax says. “And if the jury still doesn’t convict, then it’s on the jury.”

John Albert Gardner III
Lenny Ignelzi/AP