The father of a 17-year-old girl whose body was believed found in a shallow lakeside grave is keeping quiet on shortcomings about how authorities track sex offenders, at least for now.
"In due time, I'm going to have a lot to say about that," Brent King, whose daughter's disappearance Feb. 25 sparked a massive search that ended in grief five days later, told The Associated Press. "Now is not the right time. We need to heal first."
Others are already speaking up.
John Albert Gardner III, who pleaded not guilty Wednesday to the murder of Chelsea King and attempted rape of another woman, has eluded suspicion because he has been registered to live far from where crimes occurred.
When Chelsea King disappeared, last seen wearing running clothes in a San Diego park, authorities checked photographs of sex offenders registered in the area and Gardner was not among them. On Jan. 7 of this year, he registered as a sex offender about 55 miles north in Lake Elsinore, in Riverside County.
California has required sex offenders to register with local police for 50 years, and began making the information available to the public in the mid-1990s. It now posts information about more than 63,000 offenders online through what's known as the Megan's Law database, named after a 7-year-old New Jersey girl killed by a child molester who had moved in nearby.
"Megan's Law is nothing more than a tool so that you can find out who the individuals are in your community who might be likely to commit these crimes," said Marc Klaas, who founded Klaaskids Foundation after his 12-year-old daughter Polly was abducted from a slumber party in 1993 and later found slain. "For law enforcement it provides an investigative tool, and this guy seems to have avoided that."
Authorities are investigating if Gardner is linked to a 16-year-old girl who reported that she ran away after a man asked her for directions then tried to force her into a car at gunpoint on Oct. 28 in Lake Elsinore, the Riverside County Sheriff's Department said.
The suspect was described as a man 30 to 35 years old with a squarish jaw, brown eyes and a blond crew cut. A sketch appears similar to Gardner.
Again, investigators checked out local sex offenders, but not Gardner; he was registered as living in San Diego County. Escondido police say Gardner was registered to live in the north San Diego suburb from January 2008 to January 2010, with some gaps.
"He had not come onto our radar until January," when he notified authorities that he was living in an unincorporated village near Lake Elsinore, said Sgt. Patrick Chavez.
Escondido police are also investigating if Gardner is tied to the disappearance of Amber Dubois, a 14-year-old who vanished a year ago while walking to school and carrying a $200 check to buy a pet lamb.
No suspects have ever been publicly identified.
"This has definitely got our attention," said Lt. Craig Carter.
Her father, Maurice, believes there is a strong possibility that Gardner abducted his daughter, a few miles north of where Chelsea disappeared. He noted Amber and Chelsea had similar builds.
Amber, a member of Future Farmers of America, left home with $200 check to buy a lamb. It was never cashed.
"She was so excited to get to school that morning it was incredible," said Dubois, an electrical engineer near Los Angeles.
Gardner was registered as a sex offender because of his 2000 conviction for molesting a neighbor he lured at a bus stop to his San Diego home. He served five years of a six-year sentence, though his plea agreement allowed for nearly 11 years and a court-appointed psychiatrist urged "the maximum sentence allowed by law."
Gardner has never failed to register, as Megan's Law requires.
Gardner is not subject to Jessica's Law, which bars offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park and is supposed to require lifetime GPS monitoring of their whereabouts. California voters approved the law in 2006, after Gardner was paroled.
Don Thompson reported from Sacramento, Calif.
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