SAN DIEGO, Calif. (CBS 8) - John Gardner says he was never trying to avoid the death penalty, in an exclusive interview with News 8.
Gardner showed remorse for his victims, and thumbed his nose at the death penalty when he spoke to News 8 from his jail cell. And for the first time, we're learning more about the plea deal that saved his life.
News 8 asked Gardner why he admitted to killing Chelsea King and Amber Dubois.
"Why would I drag it out? Why would I put those families through going through court and looking at all the evidence, and having them sit there and having the DA's, my lawyer, throw it up in their face?" Gardner said.
Gardner never goes into detail about how he killed 14-year-old Amber Dubois or 17-year-old Chelsea King, but he does say that as soon as he was arrested for Chelsea's murder he was ready to confess his involvement in Amber's death so her parents could also have closure.
"They sat wondering for a year. It just ate me up every single day. I have nightmares of them, and I'm sitting here feeling all this guilt for so long and it finally just caught up.
"I was telling them that I just wanted to plead guilty and I want everyone to know I have, how bad I felt and everything, and that I tried to get help beforehand," Gardner said.
When District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis came clean about who led investigators to Amber's remains, she said an agreement was made: Gardner shows investigators where the body is, and it won't be held against him in court. Despite more than a month of investigation, Dumanis told reporters they were unable to prove Gardner murdered Amber.
"There was no DNA and no evidence obtained in the search warrants that connected him to Amber's murder," Dumanis said.
But Gardner says all the evidence they needed was already behind bars, waiting to talk. He was willing to confess before the backroom deal was made.
"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.
Gardner also claims that a large-scale search at Kit Carson Park in Escondido was a ruse so the media wouldn't find out he was leading detectives to Amber's body near Pala.
"You guys were given a false report to supposedly go to Kit Carson Park, so all of the media was trying to scour over Kit Carson Park when we went up there," he said. "I was en route, I saw your helicopters."
Gardner now faces life in prison, instead of the death penalty, but he's still not convinced that's the best option.
"If I got the death penalty I would be sitting in a single cell for 25 to 30 years before they ever decided to give me the death penalty. Now, with the sentence I have I'm going to be dead within the next five years," he said.
Out of respect for the families, we did tell Chelsea and Amber's parents about our interview with John Gardner. The Kings had no comment, and neither did Amber's father Maurice Dubois. But Amber's mother asked to watch our story before it aired, and gave her reaction.
"I was surprised he did an interview so close to sentencing, but he says he'll give us answers and I want answers," she said. "He said he wanted us to know, why did he wait 13 months? Because he got caught. He could have called the anonymous tip line if he felt so bad and given us some closure. So I found that hard to believe that he felt so bad, because he watched us suffer for a year and I'm sure he watched us."