Calif. Teen Rape Suspect Lived by Preschool

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- A convicted sex offender charged with murdering a California teenager lived near a preschool for at least 16 months before parole agents forced him to move, according to state corrections records released Wednesday.

A regional administrator let John Albert Gardner III continue living within 126 yards of the San Diego County preschool until his lease expired in 2006, a top corrections official told The Associated Press. But no one noticed he was still living there until a year later.

Assistant Secretary Oscar Hidalgo said there was confusion in part because of a change in parole agents.

Gardner pleaded not guilty earlier this month to murdering 17-year-old Chelsea King, whose presumed body was found in a park near her hometown of Poway north of San Diego. He also is charged with assaulting a woman in the same park last year and is under investigation in the death of 14-year-old Amber Dubois in Escondido in early 2009.

Parole and prison records released to the AP under a records request and made public Wednesday show Gardner was living little more than a football field's length from the preschool on the Miramar College campus after he was paroled from prison in 2005 after serving five years for molesting a 13-year-old girl.

That violated a condition of his parole that prohibited him from living within a half-mile of a school.

On May 2, 2006, the district administrator authorized Gardner to remain there until his lease expired on Aug. 1, 2006.

However, Gardner was never told he had to move, according to the parole records. A parole agent noticed he was still living there in September 2007, and he was moved to a sober living program within days.

"The supervisor gave him some time to finish the lease out," Hidalgo said. "A new agent said he's out of compliance and he had to move."

The new agent referred Gardner to the parole board for a violation that could have sent him back to prison. However, the board continued him on parole, where he had six other less serious potential violations before he was released from supervision in September 2008.

If Gardner had been sent back to prison, officials say 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.

Hidalgo said the department is reviewing its parole agents' actions, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has asked for a review by an advisory panel made up of law enforcement, victims and treatment experts.

Hidalgo said there is a question whether Gardner violated state law by living near the preschool. State law at the time set the half-mile restriction for high-risk sex offenders, while Gardner was considered low- to moderate-risk. Regardless, records show his parole conditions specified the half-mile residency restriction.