SAN DIEGO–Accused killer John Albert Gardner III, 30, has been formally charged with murder and a special circumstance allegation of murder during the commission of a rape or attempted rape in connection with the death of Poway High School student Chelsea King. Gardner is also charged with assault with intent to commit rape in connection with an attack on a jogger in December of 2009.
District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis told reporters that special circumstance allegation makes Gardner eligible for the death penalty. A determination on whether to seek the death penalty will be made by after the preliminary hearing next Tuesday. Without the special circumstance, the charge of murder carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Gardner was arraigned Wednesday afternoon in San Diego County Superior Court. The defendant pleaded not guilty to the charges and Superior Court Judge Joseph Brannigan ordered Gardner held in jail without bail. Gardner remains in solitary confinement.
“Now that we have filed charges, our primary focus is obtaining justice for Chelsea King and her family,” said DA Dumanis. “This crime has touched the entire community and I want to thank the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, the FBI and all law enforcement involved with the ongoing investigation for their extraordinary cooperation. I also want to acknowledge the dedication of all the volunteers who helped in the search for Chelsea.”
Gardner’s next court date will be a status hearing on March 9, and a preliminary hearing date March 18.
Deputy District Attorney Kristen Spieler has been assigned to prosecute the case. “We will be trying this case and presenting evidence in open court, not in the public or the media,” said DDA Spieler.
At arraignment, Gardner was represented the Office of the San Diego County Public Defender.