ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
It's been a horrifying couple of weeks for parents of teenagers in San Diego. First, 17-year-old Chelsea King is raped and murdered. A few days after King's body is found, 14-year-old Amber Dubois, who'd been missing for over year, also turns up dead. Convicted sex offender John Gardner has been charged in the first murder and is under investigation for the second.
From member station KPBS, Amita Sharma reports that both cases have spurred calls for tougher laws to deal with sex offenders.
AMITA SHARMA: Chelsea King was a high senior in the San Diego suburb of Poway. She played the French horn and was also on the cross country team. It was not unusual for her to go running after school to clear her head. But alarm bells went off for King's parents when she didn't return from her run on the evening of February 25th. Five days after she went missing, King's body was found in a shallow grave near the same park where she had gone running. Her father, Brent King, spoke at a vigil that evening.
Mr. BRENT KING: One of the nicknames that I always called my daughter is my angel. She's my angel forever.
SHARMA: Four days after that vigil, police found the skeletal remains of 14-year-old Amber Dubois. The freshman disappeared on her way to school early last year. At a vigil for her, Dubois' father, Maurice, urged mourners to channel their grief.
Mr. MAURICE DUBOIS: Please take a minute for every tear you have ever shed for Amber, for Chelsea, and for any other child who has suffered at the hands of these predators and come back tomorrow and take just as many minutes of action in our fight to protect our children.
SHARMA: California already has a slew of sex offender laws. Among them is Jessica's Law, barring sex offenders from living within 2000 feet from schools or parks. And there's Megan's Law. That law created a public registry of sex offenders. But legal experts say the case of John Gardner, charged in King's murder and a target in the Dubois investigation, is exhibit A in the limitations of Megan's Law. The Megan's Law Web site lists Gardner's address in Riverside County, north of San Diego. But he also visited his mother's home in San Diego, near the area where King was found dead. And Gardner registered as a sex offender late last year in the town of Escondido, where Dubois disappeared.
Mr. BOYD LONG (Assistant Police Chief, San Diego): The registered sex offenders, even though they have an address in one city, they're free to move from city to city as anybody else is.
SHARMA: Boyd Long is the assistant police chief in San Diego.
Mr. LONG: So the sex offender that may be in your neighborhood may not be there, may actually be in somebody else's neighborhood and those people just don't know that.
SHARMA: But even if you do know, what can you do? Former San Diego district attorney Paul Pfingst.
Mr. PAUL PFINGST (District Attorney, San Diego): Whatever precautions are taken to protect a community from sexual predators, they will never be foolproof unless we do not have a free society.
SHARMA: Some local parents like Karen Doll-Murphy want laws that would lock up sexual predators for life after one conviction.
Ms. KAREN DOLL-MURPHY: It has been proven time and time again that they get out and they re-offend, and they re-offend, and they re-offend.
SHARMA: But San Diego criminal defense attorney Gerald Blank says one strike laws for sex offenders already exist, the courts just aren't enforcing them. And Blank says John Gardner is a prime example.
Mr. GERALD BLANK (Criminal Defense Attorney): He would have come under the one strike law. He could have been put away for life in 2000 by the prosecution.
SHARMA: Gardner pleaded guilty 10 years ago to committing a lewd act on a child and false imprisonment. The violent nature of his crime, Blank says, qualified him for the one strike rule. But prosecutors cut a plea deal with Gardner and asked for six years. Defense lawyer Blank says that was a big mistake.
Mr. BLANK: The criminal justice system, in my opinion, failed miserably here. The prosecution could have put John Gardner away and he would not have been on our street at the time that Chelsea King was killed.
SHARMA: Criminal lawyers say there's not so much a need for new laws as there is for proper enforcement of the ones we have.
For NPR News, I'm Amita Sharma in San Diego.
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