Police say a registered sex offender is the focus of an investigation into the death of 14-year-old Amber Dubois, whose skeletal remains were discovered in a remote, rugged area north of San Diego.
Escondido police said Monday that John Albert Gardner III, 30, remains a suspect after the remains were found near Pala, more than a year after she disappeared near her school. Police did not elaborate in a statement. They said the crime scene was being processed after the remains were discovered early Saturday.
Gardner pleaded not guilty last week to murdering 17-year-old Chelsea King of nearby Poway and the attempted rape another woman in December, a potential death penalty case.
He is expected to appear at a status hearing Tuesday morning downtown.
In other developments on Monday, Gardner was in court for a hearing for a request to unseal his probation records connected to a case in which he was convicted of a lewd act on a child under 14 years old. The San Diego Union-Tribune had petitioned the court for the release, and attorney Jim Manning arguing that any right to confidentiality that Gardner had was legally voided by his subsequent arrest in the Chelsea King case.
Gardner was convicted in 2000 conviction of molesting a girl after luring her to his house with the Robin Williams movie "Patch Adams," about a doctor who uses humor to treat patients. 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."
On Monday, Gardner's lawyers, who are both public defenders, requested that the judge keep their client's probation records sealed, arguing that Gardner's constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial outweighed the public's right to know. Mel Epley, who was one of the attorneys representing Gardner, said that releasing the report would "pour more fuel on the fire" of public sentiment against his client.
Deputy District Attorney Kristen Spieler told the court she believed it would be correct in unsealing the report.
After hearing from the attorneys, Judge David Danielson ordered the records unsealed, with a caveat that they would be redacted to remove some personal information about Gardner -- including his driver's license and phone numbers -- and any personal, identifying information about the victim in the case. Epley quickly requested a stay pending an appeal, which Danielson granted until Wednesday at 9 a.m., when he could review a written request.
Epley also asked Danielson to order what was essentially a gag order in the case for law-enforcement officials and the county medical examiner's office, something the judge was reluctant to do, pointing out that any parties to such an order should be given an opportunity to speak on their behalf. He also asked Epley if he was referring to any specific incident. Epley then asked the judge for a minute to discuss something with his fellow public defender, then told the court that the Escondido Police Department had just issued a statement in connection to his client roughly five minutes prior, and he again requested that Danielson silence investigators in regard to the case. Danielson demurred, saying he could not issue an order without specific knowledge of the facts.
The judge did, however, say he would take up the matter again in the morning, when Gardner was due back in court for another hearing.
In other news on Monday, Amber's mother, Carrie McGonigle, said she was grateful for a sense of closure after the 13-month search. McGonigle said that the last year has been a roller-coaster but that she finally has answers, unlike parents of many other missing children.
McGonigle declined to comment in a brief interview about the lead that brought investigators to Amber Dubois' remains Saturday near the Pala Indian Reservation.
Published at 6:28 AM PST on Mar 9, 2010
Copyright Associated Press / NBC 7 San Diego