Despite California’s enormous budget problems, the parents of a slain 17-year-old girl say that money has to be found to fund a proposed law that might have saved their daughter’s life.
Nathan Fletcher, the state assemblyman who was to introduce “Chelsea’s Law” — named for Chelsea King, who disappeared on Feb. 25 while jogging in a park after school — agreed that the legislation is so important that a way must be found to pay for it. “I think that we can find enough money to protect our children from sexually violent predators,” Fletcher told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira Tuesday via satellite from Sacramento.
With Fletcher were Brent and Kelly King, the parents of Chelsea, a San Diego-area girl and dedicated runner whose body was found in a shallow grave in the park five days after she disappeared.
Police have arrested John Gardner, a 31-year-old convicted sex offender who lived in the area, and charged him with Chelsea’s rape and murder. Gardner has pleaded not guilty. He is also under investigation in connection with the murder a year earlier of 14-year-old Amber Dubois.
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‘Holes’ in the system
The Kings feel let down by a legal system that allowed Gardner to roam free despite a 2000 conviction for molesting a 13-year-old girl. He served five years for that crime and was on parole for three more years. During his parole, he committed several offenses, including being in possession of marijuana, opening a MySpace account and living too close to a school. Any of them could have sent him back to prison until 2008, but he remained on probation.
“The system didn’t just let a few cracks occur. It let a few holes occur. He should have never been on the streets in our community, ever,” Brent King told Vieira.
Video: Is alleged killer tied to other missing teens? Chelsea’s Law has three main provisions. One would allow life sentences without parole for violent sex offenders. A second would provide for lifetime parole and GPS monitoring of certain offenders after their release from prison. The third would prohibit offenders from entering parks where children are present, such as the one in which Chelsea was abducted.
“We drafted Chelsea’s Law because we don’t want any child to go through what our daughter went through. We don’t want any family to experience the pain we’re experiencing,” Brent King said.
“As a parent, when something like this happens, you’re able to dig deeper than you ever thought possible,” Kelly King added. “We do this for Chelsea. We do this for every child out there. It’s the least we can do and it’s the most we can do to protect our kids and to honor Chelsea’s memory.”
Moment by moment
The Kings and their 13-year-old son are still struggling to cope with the loss of Chelsea.
“We’re taking it moment by moment. Sometimes it’s still surreal to us that she’s not coming home,” Kelly King said. “We’re doing the best we can. We’re helping our son get through this as best he can and just putting one foot in front of the other.”
She said her son was very close to his big sister.
“He’s lost his best friend,” Kelly King said. “He and Chelsea were extremely close … His heart is broken.”
Chelsea’s Law is predicated on the belief that violent sex offenders are incorrigible. “These offenders cannot be rehabilitated. They do not deserve a second chance,” said Brent King Monday at a news conference at the state Capitol in support of the bill. Also at the news conference was Assemblyman Fletcher.
“I will do all I can to protect other daughters and sons, and other mothers and fathers from going through this incomparable nightmare that I’m walking through,” said Kelly King, choking back tears. A large, smiling photograph of Chelsea stood nearby.
‘Worst of the worst’
Fletcher said he focused his bill on violent child molesters — “the worst of the worst.”
The proposed life sentence would be reserved for offenders convicted of forcible sex crimes against children under 18 with aggravating factors such as kidnapping, use of a weapon, torture, binding or drugging a victim or a previous sex crime conviction.
That would represent an increase from the current 15- to 25-year sentence for a first offense involving a child under 18.
Fletcher’s bill also would double prison terms for certain other sex crimes involving children, and ban sex offenders from safe zones established around parks frequented by children.Video: Cops say repeat sex offender killed teen
Current law already requires lifetime electronic monitoring for many sex offenders. However, most electronic monitoring ends when offenders complete parole because counties and cities do not take over when the state ends its supervision. Fletcher’s bill would make it the state’s responsibility to monitor offenders for life.
Fletcher said he does not yet know how much the measure would cost or how many offenders it would affect.
The bill has bipartisan support from San Diego’s legislative delegation. It’s set for its first hearing April 20 before the Assembly Public Safety Committee.
Supporters plan to hand state lawmakers sunflowers, Chelsea’s favorite flower, as they urge them to support the measure with another news conference and office visits on Tuesday.
A San Diego radio personality has chartered a bus to bring residents to the state Capitol for the event.
The Associated Press contributed reporting to this story.
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