SAN DIEGO, Calif. (CBS 8) - The man who admitted to raping and murdering Chelsea King and Amber Dubois broke his silence in an extended interview with News 8. John Gardner is making stunning allegations and offers new, behind-the-scenes details into his brutal crimes and the plea deal that saved his life.
For more than two hours, News 8 spoke to John Gardner in a recorded telephone interview. We realize this is a very sensitive issue for the families involved, and we did notify them in advance of airing this story.
News 8 got a response from Amber Dubois' mother, and will not be reporting graphic details of the attacks on Chelsea and Amber.
In our interview, Gardner speaks intelligently about the murder case against him, and for the first time he offers to sit down with the families of his victims.
"I was aware of what I was doing, and I could not stop myself. I was in a major rage and pissed off at my whole life and everyone who had hurt me and blew up and hurt the wrong people.
"I hate myself, I really do. There is no taking back what I did, and if I could, yes I would, are you kidding me? But I was out of control. If I was able to stop myself in the middle of it, I would have, and I could not. I was out of control," Gardner said.
Never in our two and a half hour conversation does Gardner go into detail about how he killed his victims. Those answers, he says, will be given only to the girl's families upon their request.
"I'm only answering questions to the family in regards to that stuff, anything involving those two and how things happened and whatever, I will not comment on any of that. I will answer questions to them and them only," he said.
Amber Dubois disappeared on Feb. 13, 2009 at around 7 a.m. as she walked to Escondido High School. Gardner says nothing about his interaction with Amber, but in a passing remark about protecting children by putting more money into schools, he says Amber would still be here if there was a bus schedule.
"If there was a bus schedule still, would amber still be here? Yeah, she would have, if there was a bus, so why don't they put that money toward the schools?" he said.
Gardner would not say if he offered Amber a ride to school. Another question we asked him is if he stalked his victims or if they were picked at random.
"It wasn't about their age with me. I actually didn't go out and look for them. I did not sit and wait for them. I go out and go for walks to calm myself. I'll go for a walk or go for a drive just to calm down," Gardner said.
It's what witnesses say Gardner was doing on Feb. 25, the day he attacked Poway teen Chelsea King near Lake Hodges. DNA tied Gardner to the scene, and he was arrested on Sunday, Feb. 28 for Chelsea's rape and murder. As the search continued for Chelsea's body, Gardner claims he was ready to confess to the murders of both girls.
"On Monday I was trying to get a hold of the attorney, I was going to tell them where she, where Chelsea was, and I was going to tell them where Amber was," he said.
On Tuesday, March 2, search teams found Chelsea's body in a shallow grave. The next day Gardner was arraigned in court for Chelsea's murder.
"As soon as I went to court on Wednesday, I had public defenders in that little box that they always put me in, and when they came after court -- because you have to plead not guilty for some reason to everything before you can even plead guilty, I guess -- I was telling them I just want to plead guilty and want everyone to know how bad that I felt," Gardner said.
Gardner adds that he didn't care if he received the death penalty.
After his arraignment Wednesday, Gardner says he told his public defenders he killed Amber and days later he led investigators to her remains in a remote area of Pala.
"The whole deal of 'Oh we'll take the death penalty off', that was all up on the lawyers and the DA and all that. I told them I don't give a [expletive]. I told them with no promise of taking life off. I had no promises and I showed them where Amber was because I felt bad. I had no promise of any deal when I did that," Gardner said.
But the district attorney says there was an agreement: Gardner taking authorities to Amber's remains would not be held against him in court.
In the following weeks, investigators looked for anything to tie Gardner to the crime scene, but the DA says nothing was found. In the meantime, Gardner says he was becoming increasingly frustrated that Amber's parents had not been told he was the killer.
"They were withholding information of the fact that I showed where she was, and they didn't even let the family know yet. And I was pissed they didn't let the family know.
"The reason why they waited so long to announce anything and to do the plea deal was because they had to give investigators time to try and build a case against me so that they did not have to make a deal. And I said, 'Well that's [expletive]. Let's just go into court and I'll plead guilty and then you guys figure out what you want to do later," Gardner said.
Gardner says he eventually called the state attorney general's office to report everything that was happening behind the scenes.
"I had some issues with what was going on in my case. I was pissed. I was calling the attorney general and they all came down here. My attorneys, both of them, showed up that day that I called the attorney general to report them and they showed up and said, 'What the [expletive] are you doing, blah blah blah. We had the DA call us to tell us to get you to shut the [expletive] up,'" Gardner said.
District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis declined to comment on Gardner's allegations. But former DA Paul Pfingst says Gardner's statements raise major issues.
"It's not the job of the DA to stand between him and law enforcement. It's the job of his defense team, not the prosecution team.
"If John Gardner called up the AG's office and confessed to killing Amber Dubois, and confessed that now he was a serial killer, the chances of him receiving the death penalty would go from high, to extraordinarily high," Pfingst said. "What the public would have to ask is 'Is this what we're having law enforcement do now? Telling serial killers not to talk to us?'"
As far as we know, Gardner never spoke at length with the attorney general's office, and in the end the plea deal went through.
"By accepting this guilty plea, we are obtaining a conviction for the murder of Amber that we would not otherwise have been able to obtain," Dumanis said.
The death penalty was dropped in exchange for Gardner's confession, something Gardner says he was willing to do from the beginning.
"I showed them where everything was. I showed them where [Amber] was before they made a deal," Gardner said.
John Gardner faces life in prison without the possibility of parole, but it doesn't mean he can't face future prosecution.
News 8 asked Gardner if there were any other victims.
"Ha ha, good try," he said.
We showed our full report to Amber's mother Carrie McGonigle in advance of it airing. McGonigle says she does plan on meeting with Gardner in private to get some of her questions answered.
"I was surprised he did an interview so close to sentencing, but he says he'll give us answers and I want answers.
"I find what he says kind of surprising. Like, did he really just want to have the death penalty? He murdered my child, he murdered Chelsea. He could have gotten help, he could have gotten help and he could have come forward, and you know what? Chelsea may still be alive if he would have felt guilty," she said.
Other family members had no comment on our report.