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Judge issues gag order in Chelsea King rape & murder case

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ESCONDIDO, Calif. (AP) — A convicted sex offender charged with murdering one teen and suspected in the death of another appeared in court Tuesday as a judge issued a gag order and delayed a key hearing in the case.

Defendant John Albert Gardner III spoke only to acknowledge that he waived his right to speedy proceedings.

Superior Court Judge David J. Danielsen rescheduled the preliminary hearing from March 18 to Aug. 4. The hearing is meant to show if there is enough evidence to send Gardner to trial.

The defense sought a September date, and the prosecution wanted the hearing by July.

Danielson also issued a gag order on parties in the proceedings.

Gardner has pleaded not guilty to murdering 17-year-old Chelsea King. She vanished Feb. 25 and her presumed body was found March 2 in a grave in a park north of San Diego.

The case against Gardner also alleges he raped or tried to rape King.

Public defender Michael Popkins, who represents Gardner, declined to comment after the hearing.

Gardner is also under investigation in the death of 14-year-old Amber Dubois, whose remains were found Saturday 10 miles from the site where King disappeared.

At a Monday night vigil, the father of Dubois, whose bones were found more than a year after she vanished walking to school, urged supporters to behave like his late daughter's favorite animal, the wolf, to hunt down child predators.

"Wolves hunt to survive, wolves hunt together to catch their prey," Maurice Dubois told more than 1,000 mourners at the candlelight vigil. "We as parents and the community need to make a change for the protection of our children."

Mourners held a moment of silence for Amber Dubois and Chelsea King.

Escondido police say Gardner, 30, is also a focus of their investigation into Amber's death.

Carrie McGonigle, Amber's mother, said laws need to be changed.

"I still see a lot of children walking by themselves and it scares me," she said on a chilly night in the courtyard of Escondido High School, near the spot where Amber disappeared Feb. 13, 2009.

Police said Amber's remains were identified through dental records. They have not said what led them to the remote area near Pala because the discovery is part of a murder investigation.

Dubois noted in his remarks that rumors his daughter was a runaway hampered the family's efforts to bring national media attention to their search. Gardner's arrest three days after Chelsea King disappeared renewed interest in Amber.

Kelly Elsbernd, a cousin, said she and Amber grew up drawing animals together and pretending to be seals and otters when they went swimming.

"They never really played with dolls," said Nicole Elsbernd, Kelly's mother. "They played with bugs."

Jade Fidel, Amber's best friend, said Amber had two dogs, a cat and a bird, but wolves were her favorite.

"She liked them," Fidel said. "They were free, independent."

Gardner was registered as a sex offender in Escondido from January 2008 to January 2010, with some gaps, according to police. He served five years of a six-year prison term for molesting a 13-year-old neighbor in San Diego in 2000 and completed parole in September 2008.

 

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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