Murder suspect broke parole |

Murder suspect broke parole

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – A convicted sex offender charged with murdering one California teenager and under investigation for another killing violated his parole by moving too close to a school but was allowed to remain free, according to records obtained Thursday by The Associated Press.

Had John Albert Gardner III been returned to prison in 2007 he would have been evaluated for commitment to a state mental hospital as a sexually violent predator. He also would have qualified for wearing an electronic tracking device for the rest of his life.

“It was just an incompetent decision that didn’t protect public safety,” said state Sen. George Runner, who wrote Jessica’s Law, the sex offender law approved by voters in 2006.

“And now we have, what, two victims and who knows what else is out there?” he said.

The parole records show state officials found Gardner illegally living within a half-mile of a school in September 2007 and decided to keep him on parole. The records show at least five later violations, the last on Sept. 8, 2008, just 18 days before Gardner was let go from parole supervision and his location-tracking GPS bracelet removed from his ankle.

Each time, the decision was “COP:” Continue on Parole.

Gardner would have been evaluated for commitment as a sexually violent predator had he been sent back to prison, though it is not certain he would have qualified, said Nancy Kincaid, spokeswoman for the state Department of Mental Health.

“All the indications were there saying that this was a very serious situation,” she said. “A very serious evaluation would have been followed all the way through.”

Gardner’s attorney, Michael John Popkins, did not return a telephone message seeking comment. He is under a court-ordered gag order not to talk about the case.

Gardner, 30, served five years in prison and three years of parole after pleading guilty in 2000 to molesting a 13-year-old neighbor girl.

He pleaded not guilty last week to murdering Chelsea King, 17, whose presumed body was found March 2 buried in a park near her hometown of Poway north of San Diego.