Governor signs law named after Chelsea King

Posted on September 9, 2010. Filed under: Crime, Politics |

Measure sets longer prison sentences, tougher parole conditions and targeted treatment for sex offenders

By Matthew T. Hall, UNION-TRIBUNE

Originally published September 9, 2010 at 10:59 a.m., updated September 9, 2010 at 11:42 a.m.

When Doug Lambell remembers searching for Chelsea King six months ago, he feels anew the sad invigoration of a community coming together to stop a family from falling apart.

– AP FILE – This undated family file photo released by the King family shows Chelsea King, from the San Diego, Calif. suburb of Poway. John Albert Gardner pleaded guilty Friday April 16, 2010 to murdering two teenage girls, Amber Dubois and Chelsea King, in San Diego County after prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty. (AP Photo/King Family Photo, File) NO SALES

The 49-year-old banker and father of two from Scripps Ranch remembers showing up in Rancho Bernardo to search for a teenager he didn’t know. He remembers seeing more than 1,000 people standing in the rain and being bowled over by the shared purpose of wanting to bring Chelsea home.

He still cries about it.

Key elements of Chelsea’s Law

One strike: Violent sexual crimes against a person under 14 carry a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Forcible sex crimes: Depending on circumstances, the sentence could be 25-years-to life.

Lifetime parole: Habitual sex offenders to be monitored with GPS for life; others will have to wear tracking systems longer, depending on the crime.

Parks: Sex offenders on parole can not enter parks. They can be in parks once released from parole.

Containment model”: The state will use this more costly system, which includes intensive treatment, monitoring and polygraph tests, to reduce risks of recidivism.

Evaluations: Sex offenders are evaluated for possible identification as a mentally disordered offender. Under previous law, the offender could escape the label if the two evaluators disagree. Under the new law, a split decision by evaluators would still result in the case moving to the hearing phase instead of stopping.

Internet postings: Registered sex offenders will have their risk assessment scores posted on the Megan’s Law website, meganslaw.ca.gov

Online

To see photos of the first day that volunteers searched for Chelsea King and previous stories, go to uniontrib.com/chelsea

“The desire we had to go out there and make something happen for that family climbed every day,” Lambell said.

While the search didn’t end well, the desire didn’t wane. It contributed Thursday to the creation of Chelsea’s Law, which establishes longer prison sentences, tougher parole conditions and targeted treatment for sex offenders like the one who killed Chelsea.

Before signing the legislation alongside Chelsea’s parents in a ceremony at Balboa Park, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said this to more than 200 people in front of him: “Because of Chelsea, California’s children will be safer. Because of Chelsea, this never has to happen again, and I hope that it offers some comfort to all of you here today. My heart goes out to each of you.”

The bill’s main sponsor, Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, R-San Diego, added this: “An unspeakable tragedy, a powerful voice, a community demanding action, a Legislature that responded, a governor about to make history. This is due to Chelsea King. Today is her day.”

The crowd gave standing ovations to Fletcher and Brent and Kelly King, Chelsea’s parents.

“Thank you, California,” Brent King said. “From the moment our daughter went missing, you have showed your true spirit and you haven’t stopped since… We as a community have all learned the value of involvement.”

After Kelly King thanked everyone for their support, Jenna Belknap, president of peer counseling at Poway High School where Chelsea attended, spoke last.

“We had to find a new sense of normal without Chelsea physically in our lives,” she said. “Chelsea King is not a past-tense kind of girl.”

As February bled into March, at least 1,000 volunteers gathered each day for four days in a business park on Bernardo Plaza Court. The spot was about two miles from where Chelsea, a 17-year-old from Poway, went missing while on a run near Lake Hodges on Thursday, Feb. 25.

Details of her abduction are now known nationally. Registered sex offender John Albert Gardner III, 31, raped and killed her, a year after sexually assaulting and fatally stabbing 14-year-old Amber Dubois of Escondido.

Gardner pleaded guilty to the crimes in April and will live his days in prison. Chelsea’s and Amber’s legacies likely will live on in several laws bearing their names.

Moe Dubois, Amber’s father, championed three bills that Schwarzenegger intends to sign. They would establish guidelines for handling missing-persons investigations, require law enforcement to notify national databases two hours after a child abduction — instead of the current four — and create a missing-persons position within the California Department of Justice to help authorities find abducted children.

Tommy Sablan, 46, producer of the Jeff and Jer radio show and a parent of two teenagers from Rancho Peñasquitos, joined the search for Chelsea the day her body was found and said she and Amber are forever linked.

“I think of them as one and the same,” he said.

Sablan and others who combed parts of North County for Chelsea said one of the reasons so many people turned out so quickly to help was Amber’s then-unsolved disappearance.

They also said the area has a history of unity in the wake of tragedy, a reputation it earned during the 2003 and 2007 wildfires and the 2002 abduction and murder of 7-year-old Danielle Van Dam from Sabre Springs.

And they said that unlike Amber’s case, it was instantly clear, by the discovery of Chelsea’s car along running trails at Lake Hodges, that something was wrong.

Chelsea disappeared late Thursday and word spread quickly Friday — right before the weekend when many residents were available to help. Those people then began to learn about Chelsea.

She was pretty and popular. She read Tolstoy for fun. She played the French horn, loved to run, quoted Virgil.

She could have been your daughter, people said. She could have been mine.

The Texas-based Laura Recovery Center, which assists in searches for children nationwide, helped organize the local one. Two helpers flew in, and a third, Fiona Oberrick, a 46-year-old mother from Carmel Mountain Ranch whose association with the Texas group dates to Danielle Van Dam’s murder, volunteered as director of the Chelsea King Search Center.

It opened in the offices of RB United, an organization formed in response to the 2007 fires. Searchers said everyone checked their egos at the door to help.

People and businesses donated coffee, food, office supplies, even printers and photocopying machines. Fliers went up as far away as Nevada and Tijuana. Maps were made available. A Facebook page was created to connect everyone, dispel rumors and sustain faith.

“It was just get the job done,” said Valerie Brown, executive director of RB United. “Everybody was just holding out hope and we didn’t have any room for doubt.”

Poway country singer Steve Vaus, who had won a Grammy a month before, volunteered to empty bathroom trash cans and restock toilet paper each day at the search center.

“Those are the times that test the bonds of a community,” he said. “We just have a share-the-load mentality here in Poway because it’s our town, we’re part of it and when we all share the load, the load’s lighter.”

Boundaries in the area, already blurred by school, youth and church groups, essentially ceased to exist, Vaus and others said.

De Le, 29, arrived from Clairemont Mesa to help. He became a team leader responsible for a group of 20 people who would go on to search two to three areas a day for four days, armed with maps and orders not to touch potential evidence.

Le said a core group of eight people returned each day to his team. This group remains close. They gather at least once a month at the beach or each other’s houses for food and conversation.

The afternoon of March 2, after word spread that Chelsea’s body had been found, volunteers returned to the search center one last time.

“It was a very, very sad moment,” Le said. “We all broke down and we were just lingering around, passing condolences to each other and saying goodbye to the center, which was kind of hard because we’d all been so involved. We helped clean up the center, exchanged information with everyone and said goodbye.”

Like Le, Lambell is glad to have helped in any way he could during the search.

He said volunteers brimmed with earnestness, anxiety and passion. He said the search was a catalyst for change.

“I think it did an amazing job at a necessary time of making people aware that the community is what we make it.”

matthew.hall@uniontrib.com • (619) 293-1335 • Twitter @SDuncovered

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