Monday, March 8, 2010

Two dead teenagers leaves San Diego in mourning

Now that the shock of the murder of Chelsea King and Amber Dubois begins to wear off and the justice department begins to build its case against convicted sex offender, John Garner, the family and community will start the process of healing and figuring out who failed the teenagers.

The Escondido and Poway High School students should have been looking in the mailbox to find college acceptance letters that were arriving, instead devastated families must begin the process of picking up the pieces.

There is no question about it Chelsea and Amber were wronged, someone dropped the ball and someone didn’t connect the dots. As the events preceding Amber and Chelsea’s disappearance unfold there is strong evidence pointing to a breakdown in communication in law enforcement.

Law enforcement officers have not missed an opportunity to step out in front of the news cameras all the while offering little to no information about the murders.

News is still developing about another attack in the Rancho Bernardo Park just two months earlier in December. John Gardner also assaulted a 22-year-old female jogger who was visiting from Colorado, according to authorities. However, the jogger was able to fight off her attacker and reported that she elbowed her assailant in the face most likely breaking his nose- this self-defense gave her an opportunity to run for her life.

The San Diego Police Department was called to investigate the scene and after interviewing the victim concluded it was a failed robbery.

“A failed robbery? How many women go jogging in a county park carrying a purse, computer, camera and cash? Anyone with common sense knows something like would take place at a car or home,” says Poway resident Carry who wished to protect her last name.

The jogging victim’s mother found the outcome odd as well. She reported that her daughter was tackled like a football player and a large man fitting Gardner’s description tried to aggressively subdue her daughter.

This where the communication break down begin. San Diego Police Department was convinced the female was a victim of a robbery attempt because at some point during the attack he asked for money. Not many women are buying that excuse.

According to the jogger who was attacked on Dec. 27th, she wanted to sit down with a police sketch artist to create a composite drawing of her attacker, the SDPD was too busy to follow through with her request. However, the female returned home to her Colorado home and was able to get a local Police Dept. to draw a sketch. The likeness to Gardner is astonishing.

Many Poway residents have trouble with the theory Gardner would lie in wait at a secluded part of the Rancho Bernardo Community Park to rob a runner.

San Diego Police saw it differently. “You have to weigh causing panic in the community versus putting information out there,” said Assistant Police Chief Boyd Long, who oversees patrol operations in a San Diego Union Tribune story.

“Hindsight is always 20/20. If we knew today, if we had any idea that the person who did this crime was responsible for other crimes or was going to commit other crimes, we would have put out every effort possible to put him in custody.”

Needless to say, the jogger who was attacked on December 27th could be considered ground zero. Had the police took the attack more seriously, they would have notified the local neighborhood watch program in place in the Rancho Bernardo Community that lines the park.

“There’s a lot of frustration and anger out there right now,” said Gary Carlson the Rancho Bernardo neighborhood watch coordinator. “The San Diego Police Department did not personally notify us after the Dec. 27th attack occurred. It was a failure in communications that the attack was classified as a simple robbery on the crime log.”

According to Carlson, recent cutbacks in community spending may have been a factor in the SDPD not reaching out to community leaders sooner. Had the Police Department notified community leader an action plan would have been implemented.

“First, we would have notified all of our district leaders who would bring neighbors up to speed. The community would have mobilized and put together fliers to post at local businesses, entrances to the park as well as post fliers door-to-door.”

Finally, the Rancho Bernardo Neighborhood Watch group would have posted information on their website and been in constant contact with law enforcement officers monitoring the case progress.
“Hind sight is 20/20, but I can say we would have been proactive,” Carlson said.

Moving forward Carlson believes the police and community can learn from this tragedy and figure out a communication system that will provide a timely alert mechanism for future incidents that may arise.

A day in court

The defendant’s first day in court went smoothly and lasted less than five minutes. Gardner's mother or stepfather did not attend the arraignment and it’s been reported they may have fled town to avoid the steady stream of onlookers and angry residents. Gardner’s family home was vandalized during the early hours on Wednesday, the garage door read, and “Chelsea’s blood is on you Move out."

After the brief court appearance, lead prosecutor and Deputy District Attorney Kristen Spieler held a joint press conference with San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. The charges Gardner face are murder with a special allegation that occurred during the commission or attempted commission of a rape.
"The special allegation attached to the murder charge makes the defendant eligible for the death penalty," Spieler explained.

Another mantra the District Attorney repeated during the news conference was "We are not here to try the case in the media, but to try our case in court." Dumanis explained the case would be handled by the book and considerations needed to be made regarding the crime that “has rocked” San Diego.

Due to the national media attention this case has garnered, prosecutors admitted the case would follow proper protocol and many decisions about the death penalty would be decided with the help of Chelsea’s family.

The charge of rape and murder are significant, but also concerning is the second charge that specifically accuses Gardner of assault with the intent to commit rape in the Dec. 27 attack.
Police or the District Attorney’s office wouldn’t detail the change in the police report taken in December and the addition of the intent to rape charges to Gardner.

News reported by the Associated Press tie Gardner’s DNA directly to Chelsea. According to the California Department of Justice spokesperson Christine Gasparac matching DNA of semen was found on Chelsea’s clothing.

Gardner who was released from prison in 2006 and competed his parole in September 2008, despite an unfavorable psychiatric review by Dr. Matthew Carroll who described the defendant as “a continued danger to underage girls in the community.”

Missing teenager Amber Dubois

Amber Dubois’ parents received the grim news that their daughter who has been missing for 13 months has been found. On Friday night the parents were hopeful their daughter was still alive as the Escondido Police Department searched Kit Carson Park for clues to the missing teenager.

That all ended today as Escondido Police Chief Jim Maher said, “The discovery was made in the early morning hours Saturday in a very rugged and remote area of Pala. Escondido police and Sheriff’s homicide detectives were following a lead in the case when they made the discovery.”

The remains found near the Pala reservation and Pala Casino, were positively identified using Amber’s dental records Saturday afternoon.

Maher, Sheriff Bill Gore and FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Keith Slotter, did not answer any questions at the brief press conference held at the Escondido Police Department. Maher explained the remains were part of an ongoing police investigation and there were three separate agencies working the Amber Dubois and Chelsea cases.

“The entire community, everybody who helped out with the search effort, and above all our huge volunteer corps, they are the most dedicated people and without them we couldn’t have done anything,” said the visibly upset father Maurice Dubois.

When asked if the reward for information leading to Amber’s disappearance would be in play, Sheriff Gore declined to answer leading to more questions as to how the skeletal remains were located.

The local convenience store in Pala, yielded chatter that Amber was most likely found because John Gardner, who is charged with Chelsea King’s rape and murder wanted to get out of the death penalty.

However, the San Diego Union Tribune is reporting that the tip came in the form of a concerned resident. “The entire Chelsea King event emotionally pulled at somebody who had this information,” said Bill Garcia a PI hired by the Dubois family. “They’ve seen the community in a lot of pain. Someone who had been afraid to say something finally came forward.”

A half-hour drive north of Escondido would be Amber’s final resting place. Her skeletal remains were recovered off Pala-Temecula Road in the rocky hillside of a bustling highway located between two casinos.

The Sheriff’s deputies were parked along the highway in nondescript SUVs, but were easy to spot because the officers were standing outside their vehicles. Ask if the crime scene was up or down, they pointed up a mile-long road into a wooded section of the hillside. Once their cover was blown, the Sheriff’s Department called Caltrans to place crime scene tape along the roadside and clear two members of the media.

The Escondido Police Department announced more details would be forthcoming at another press conference tomorrow.

Gardner lived in Escondido for part of 2009 when the teenager went missing. Dubois said he and his family knew that Gardner was a local registered sex offender and watched his apartment for a short period of time after their daughter went missing. Currently there are more than 60,000 sex offenders residing in California.

The national spotlight on Chelsea King renewed efforts by the Escondido Police Department and a recent tip sent authorities to Kit Carson Park in Escondido searching for clues to find Amber, but ultimately found her body 30 minutes north of where she was snatched.

The investigation into Gardner past widened in since Chelsea’s disappearance and authorities have linked him to a December assault and continue to explore whether he had a role in last year’s abduction of Escondido teenager Dubois.

Joined by the FBI, police officials scoured a Kit Carson Park pond and surrounding region to be sure nothing was left to chance. “We didn’t find anything that I would consider to be of evidentiary value at this point,” said police Lt. Craig Carter.

While the Dubois’ are grateful for the renewed effort in their daughter’s case, they are filled with sadness for the King family and both parents continue to wear the orange ribbon for Chelsea.

While the community is alert, authorities and family members of both girls are enlisting the public to step forward with any clues no matter how insignificant they may seem. “Right now our hearts go out to anyone with possible leads to Amber’s location and we are not going to lose hope in finding Amber alive,” they said at a Friday night interview.

Absolutely outrageous DNA backlog

The San Diego Union Tribune has also reported the San Diego Police Department crime lab had rushed to test a DNA swab taken from the elbow of the victim of the December attack this week. “We thought we could get something good on that, but unfortunately not,” Collins said.

Due to a 500 DNA sample backlog the suspect’s DNA sample taken in December was not tested earlier because it was considered an attempted robbery. Authorities say robberies don’t rate very high and rapes and murders take a higher priority for testing. It is worth pointing out that state budget cuts could have added to the delay as many state employees are forced to take furlough days each month.

According to the State Penal Code “the purpose of the DNA and Forensic Identification Database and Data Bank Program is to assist federal, state, and local criminal justice and law enforcement agencies within and outside California in the expeditious and accurate detection and prosecution of individuals responsible for sex offenses and other crimes, the exclusion of suspects who are being investigated for these crimes, and the identification of missing and unidentified persons, particularly abducted children.

Looking back to the December attack in Rancho Bernardo County Park, clues were dismissed and residents were unable to spring into action. Perhaps Chelsea’s death could have been prevented if her parents were aware that it wasn’t safe to jog in the park alone.

Community leaders will now begin the process of looking through the process to ensure proper steps are followed in the future.

Congressman Bilbray spokesperson Fritz Chaleff explained the Congressman, who has two daughters, “was deeply saddened by the news of Chelsea’s murder.”

No one can predict the future, but armed with information, residents can better protect themselves, communicate and ban together.

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