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Here's the link to an updated essay for those I have referred this to
This happens to be the only report in print or on line, on the personal story of a man who is about to be the poster boy for a California law, that if he is right, will cause many more deaths such as he has admitted to.  

There is a real question whether the essential elements of this interview with John Albert Gardner III, the man who committed the crimes will be told.  The interview took place from his jail cell to a reporter of the local San Diego CBS affiliate.  The first story of the interview was presented Thursday, with another promised for the next day.  

It was canceled with no explanation. But they did put the entire approximately two hour unedited interview on their website, which I just finished listening to.

There are a few reports on this interview on line, but as of now, no substantive description of the interview.  

This diary will not be about the details of the rape-murders committed by Gardner.  I get daily delivery of the only newspaper in the region, The San Diego Union Tribune.  It's handling of this story, has been a media event, with well over 200 articles and a comprehensive search of the paper totaling over 5000 items.  They see it as comprehensive public interest journalism, proudly saying on a front page editorial that they would take the lead to divert more resources into a stronger law, Chelsea's Law, that would prevent such predation.

I see it quite differently, as a concerted attempt to stir up a degree of rage fostering a law that, far from preventing future disasters such as this, will make the lives of those such as Gardner so untenable that they will have nothing to lose if they commit heinous acts such as this. It is telling that the latest articleon the TV news interview does not mention Gardner's description of doors shut when he plead for help before the murder, his history of mental illness, and the miscarriage of justice of his first conviction.

Based on this interview, and still unreported, is Gardner's claim, easily verified, that he was diagnosed as Manic Depressive in elementary school, and that he attended a special high school for the mentally ill, punctuated by several stays in a residential mental hospital.  

He also makes a detailed claim that his first offense against a 13 year old when he was 20, was not as described in the press as a sexual assault. He admits that after an argument he did strike her in the face but that he did not touch her sexually.  He buttresses this claim by saying that she originally told the police that he raped her, but that she withdrew that claim when told that she would have to accept a vaginal examination.  At that point she change the story to her breasts having been forceably fondled.  She refused to appear to testify, leading to the plea bargain.

Gardner was told that by accepting this plea the time served would be short, but he ended up serving 5 years.  

When he got out, he describes getting a well paid job as an electrician, living on his own--- until he was assigned a new parole officer.  This person, following the letter of existing law, forced him to quit his job and move several times, ultimately resulting in his being left jobless and homeless. The lose of the ability to pay child support to his two children resulted in the mother refusing him any contact further contact with them.

In the months before the murders Gardner claims that he knew he was in a crisis, "losing control" and that he attempted numerous times to get psychiatric help, calling several clinics and even attempting to check into a mental hospital, but all to no avail.

John Gardner is not asking forgiveness. He accepts that what he did is worthy of hatred, and acknowledges that what he did was horrible, and expects that his life sentence will result in his being killed in prison.

This interview is revealing. While there are inconsistencies, the key point is that it is not self serving....he is not claiming that he did not commit the crimes or even asking for mitigation of his punishment. He acknowledges having uncontrollable rage, perhaps exacerbated by drugs, which led to the murder.  But he is not saying this for any reason other than to explain what happened, for society to craft policy to prevent it in the future.
The new law named after one of Gardner's victims, Chelsea's Law, will be one strike and you're out, that's life in prison if convicted of sexual contact with a minor.  This makes the issue of whether John Gardner's first conviction was for a sex act or for simple assault more relevant.  Given the frenzy promoted by the Union Tribune, a person accused of sexual assault on a minor, whether substantive or not, will have difficulty getting a fair hearing.  We went through a version of this a few decades ago, when dozens of innocent day care teachers were imprisoned for non existing sexual crimes against children.  

I'll close with the email I just sent to the television reporter:

Rekha Muddara
Reporter, CBS8 San Diego

I just listened to the Gardner interview.  

The reporting, actually more like a crusade of vengeance, by the Union Tribune has been a travesty, which just my result in "Chelsea's Law" which will ignore centuries of research on effective penology.

You have a story based on this interview.   There are specific questions such as were the facts as Gardner gave them of the vacillation in the report by the 2000 victim accurate.   Did she change her story after being told of the need for a rape kit?

Then there is the question of whether his second parole officer did in fact make his life untenable, cause him to be homeless and jobless.   This seems to be the goal of many who are caught up in the mob mentality fostered by the Union Tribune.  Gardner tells of how this pushed him over the edge, precipitating the final tragedy of the two murders.

Reporting this story is in no way condoning his actions, as he stated several times that he is perfectly willing to die for what he did.   He is not asking forgiveness, but providing insight into what caused his particular violence.   And there is no reason to believe that he is other than being honest, as his story gains him nothing.

Will you be following up on this story, or has the station decided that it would not be productive from a business perspective.   I noticed that you graduated from Journalism school.  It's hard to get work I'm sure, but this is your opportunity to be a real reporter.  It would be a damn shame personally if you accepted squelching this story, especially if enacting vindictive and counter productive laws are the outcome.



Originally posted to ARODB on Sun May 02, 2010 at 12:08 PM PDT.


The words of poeple such as John A. Gardner...

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Comment Preferences

  •  I have a longer version of this diary.. (15+ / 0-)

    on my personal website, where I appended my actual name.  Given the anger in the community fomented in part by the Union Tribune this could have consequences.

    Mobs feed on anger, and rational arguments have usually been a rather ineffective deterent once pure evil has been consensually identified.  

    I noticed that my blog article showed up on Google this morning, so those who go to the site may help to give it some prominence.

    •  Thanks for the rec..... (5+ / 0-)

      I spent many hours listening to the audio interview, after reading months of vilification beyond even what his actions deserved.  

      He will die in prison, with a good chance of it being violent and soon.   Yet, he was born with a mental illness, made worse by being denied any help.

      I somehow thought those on this site might be interested.  Zero comments is a real surprise.

  •  Good points, too much to expect from union trib, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cybrcamper, arodb

    which is such a rag and has exceeded my already poor opinion of its journalistic quality. I hope someone (you?) will get the answers to your questions.

    Slavery is the legal fiction that a person is property. Corporate personhood is the legal fiction that property is a person. -Jan Edwards

    by SoCalSal on Sun May 02, 2010 at 01:40:12 PM PDT

    •  The boycott of the interview... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cybrcamper, SoCalSal

      seems to be universal.  No one in San Diego knows that the man is mentally ill, and his first conviction may have been a miscarriage of justice.

      New laws are being passed based on a deluge of reporting and editorials, that might not even be predicated on the real events, much less optimal penology.

      Even a diary such as I wrote, can be construed as my having sympathy for Gardner.  (see my comment below for elaboration)

  •  CHelsea's law may be too road. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    marykk, arodb, cai, pstoller78

    Under CA law, if a minor has sex with another minor--they both commit statutory rape, which is ridiculous.  But violent or forcible sex by someone of any age is a crime, period.  

    The only way Gardner could have been saved is if he had been receiving cosntant psychiatric care for his bi-polar disorder. The problem is bi-polar sufferers often stop taking their meds when they stop feeling depressed, which often plunges them into mania.  Both mania and depression parts of the cycle can be angry and violent. I started researchign this when I worked with sweet man who weighed in at 230 and was 6'5" in hsi bare feet. Nicest guy uin the world when on his meds.  But he had psoriasis which the meds  exacerbated, so he'd stop taking them--and he'd go manic or depressive, and he was violent in both phases. Like my co-worker, there's no guarantee Gardner wouldahve stayed on his meds, and that uncotnrollable rage he speaks of is precisely what I am talkign about.  The only way to prevent someone like him froma cting on it is to keep him on hismeds, and legally you can't force soemone to take them.

    He was already a problem at 20, because he was inappropriately invovled with  THIRTEEN-YEAR-Ol which is a crime, even if it never went beyong kisses and touches.  It's statutory rape, period.  

    I don't have a whole lot of sympathy for this guy,. He murdered two womena nd tried to rape anotehr.  Perhaps institutionalizing himpermanently ina mental hospitla is what was neded--but you can't keep them there unless they are a danger to themselves and others.  I'd frankly rather infrigne on his rights than see anothe rape-murder.

    The last time we mixed religion and politics people got burned at the stake.

    by irishwitch on Sun May 02, 2010 at 01:49:20 PM PDT

    •  Let me respond with this long email.. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cybrcamper, Kingsmeg, soothsayer99

      just written to a woman, Patty, who was a parole officer for people similar to Gardner:


      Did you read Dostoevsky's book, Crime and Punishment?   I put up the earlier essay on Dailykos, and it was avoided like the plague, few even read it and no one, not a single person wrote a comment.

      Perhaps understanding does imply condoning to some degree.  Psychiatrists can avoid this by labels, the diagnosis negates any temptation of empathy.   The rest of us don't have these skills, so it is best to just avoid the subject, or to treat the person as a non human, a preditor, a monster.

      I'm sure that part of Gardners persona is the con, the skill of engaging people yet having his own heinous goals as the end point.  There is the real question, one going beyond metaphysics, of whether he did actually sexually assault that first girl.  If so, then perhaps the sequalae, the consequences were ultimately his fault, as he set the chain of events into motion.

      If I felt there was any interest I would copy verbatim his comments about that case, and it could be ascertained whether it was a miscarriage of justice, which with sex crimes is pretty easy to happen.   The examples of the pre-school teacher convictions based on children's fantasies is telling.

      I happen to be against abolition of the death penalty.  I can both sympathize, understand the horrible conditions that produce a murderer, yet still accept capital punishment as appropriate.  (actually in California, life is worth than the death penalty) but in principle I can hold both perceptions.   And with Gardner, I can see him as heinous but also have a drive for understanding the process, the life events that transpired-- not to excuse his actions, but that may have been amenable to diminishment by different social policy.

      I just don't think I can do much.   It's amazing that the people of San Diego will never know that this particular predator was mentally ill from his childhood, and that the rigidity of the parole system just may have driven him away from his path of adjusting.

      Anyhow.  Please don't feel any need to respond to this email, as I do value this dialogue, but I understand that you have put in your time to try to help both felons and the public.   As always, you have my admiration.


      Its difficult to dis entangle sympathy from understanding.    

      •  I understand him (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        arodb, cai, tardis10

        I have no sympathy. Whether he spends his life in prison or in a mental institution doesn''t matter to me, so long as he is kept off the streets. Frankly a high security facility for the criminally insane would be my choice IF the diagnosis of bipolar disorder is correct. Ye, the system failed him--but it also failed the two he murdered and the one he tried to grab.

        But I also have to speak for the dead and for women who are at risk from this sexual predator.I've held a crying twelve-year old who was raped by her pedophile neighbor at the age of 11. I've worked with a cop who was trying to find polite way to describe the actions of a father who had been touching his 11 year old girl for the past 3 years==only reason he hadn't achieved penetration was her vagina was too small for entry.  Ive talked to women who were raped by boyfriends and strangers.

        Again, I agree the system failed Gardner.  ANd maybe the parole officer fucked up--and maybe he didn't. Maybe he was simply trying to keep him away from schools and playgrounds the way the law requires.  Still, while I can see the tragedy of the system failing this guy, I am MORE concerned about the fates of the future victims he might have claimed.  They were also faield--by a ssystem which allwoed this man back on the street.

        FYI, I am also anti=death penalty, but I am also for stronger sentences for those who commit violent sexual crimes. It's almost impossible to cure a pedophile or a rapist. WHat I don't want is  to see soemone like an acquaintance who at age 23 had sex with a girl who was within a month of her `8th birthday being lumped in with Gardner. H had to register as a sex offender for 10 years. He's an idiot and he showed very bad judgment and he faield to keep his fiduciary duty as a volunteer at her high school--but being a jerk isn't the same as beign a violent sex ofender.

        The last time we mixed religion and politics people got burned at the stake.

        by irishwitch on Sun May 02, 2010 at 02:35:40 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Certainly, we agree on the horror of his actions. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          soothsayer99, SoCalSal

          yet, the kind of drum beat of rage, the constant "predator" language can go beyond the mark.  John Gardner is no longer the subject of my interest as an individual, it is what we can learn from his experiences.

          When rage is great enough, it will start to encompass your friend who had consensual sex with an adult only five years his junior.   And it will trap those who are absolutely innocent, as was the case with the Day Care Convictions of the 1980s.

          If we get much more punitive, since now a single child sex conviction means often living under a bridge, sort of like the old USSR "internal exile."  If it gets much worse for them, then continuation of such freedom is no longer a motivator, as was the case with Gardner.

          At that point, maybe already, we should simply execute such people, with a short period for appeal, accepting that we will get a few wrong.  Sometimes an email exchange can lose subtlety, and words seem hostile....which I certainly am not to you.

          I guess I'll just put this issue among the ever growing pile marked, "no solution."  And I'll watch as California, now under court mandate to release tens of thousands of felons from prison, with more people dying because fire stations are being closed, direct more funds to ensure that those who did err shall never have any chance of redemption.

          Anyhow, thanks for participating in this conversation.

          •  When Gardner was arrested, (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            I heard several people say, in effect -- "I don't support the death penalty, but what should be done with sex offenders if they are doomed to repeat the offense? Castration?" These are difficult conversations.

            I don't have a solution either.

            Slavery is the legal fiction that a person is property. Corporate personhood is the legal fiction that property is a person. -Jan Edwards

            by SoCalSal on Sun May 02, 2010 at 03:41:37 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  I assume '8 is a typo for 18? n/t (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          irishwitch, arodb

          My comments may not be used for any purpose without explicit permission.

          by cai on Mon May 03, 2010 at 02:19:31 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  I work as a peer support person (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        For people with bipolar and many other disorders, and am bipolar myself (and I take my meds reliably, thank you!).

        I am sickened by the idea of it taking so long to be finally diagnosed and get help, and this is all too prevalent in America today. I went 30 years as an undiagnosed person with a mental disorder, trying to make my way the best I could, not knowing why I behaved as I did. And I hurt other people and myself through my lack of control. I have never held a job for more than a year. I am now a recovering alcoholic/addict (12 years sober), and I have developed empathy and connection with the rest of society. Most of all, I have developed control over my own actions. I can be trusted, and I can trust myself. This disorder is incredibly common amongst the alcoholic/addict population I see every day. We call them dually diagnosed.

        We once had something resembling a justice system in America. I remember it well. Justice involves the society through an impartial party serving its aim of justice for all in a controlled and restrained manner. This is no longer true. It has turned into something just shy of a lynch mob catering only to judges and DAs getting reelected, to prison companies making obscene profits operating little more than torture chambers and to people who are interested only in retribution (and yes, some retribution is necessary, given the nature of this crime especially, but in a measured way, perhaps). We now incarcerate more of our people than any other country on the face of the Earth. And although serving victims of crime is, after all, the primary mission of the justice system, the reason it was established in the first place was to eliminate the mob and its excesses. To exercise justice dispassionately, as opposed to burning witches and lynching folks without a proper trial. Exile of sex offenders to the underside of a bridge seems to me to be the modern equivalent of that. For crap's sake this is the 21st century, can't an enlightened people do any better than that?

        How we treat people with mental disorders says a lot about who we are. We certainly appear to have a long way to go in this country.

        I begin work this month on a demonstration project involving using peer support principles to help disabled people decide if they want to go to work, and how to go about it. How to navigate the VocRehab system, the Social Security system, and negotiate a fair deal with an employer so they can have, if needed, an accomodation for their disability. If we can save one of us from going through the pain of the last 30 years, I believe the effort will be worth it.

        •  Thanks for the response.... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          for a while there were no comments, and I wondered whether the experiences that form the liberal sensitivity, understanding of life's difficulties, where absent this fine spring Sunday.

          Although not clinically bipolar, I have enough of a hint of it (subclinical is the term of art) to understand the loss of control, the exaggerated sense of pain that could, under certain circumstances lead to a chain of disastrous events such as Gardners.

          We have to make out that people have free will and hold them responsible for their crimes even if we know that we are all victims of our genes, accidents of birth and environment.  But imbuing individuals with free will doesn't mean that society can't do what it can, provide comfort if not cure, to make life tolerable for those who suffer.

          Ultimately only by helping them, do we help their potential victims.  The vindictiveness of the local paper precluded this perception.

          Best of luck.

          •  And thanks (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            For writing about this. It was rescued, as I am sure you are aware by now. It deserves the attention.

            It's madness to spend such vast sums of money on a system that produces this dehumanizing result. Cali has become nearly a failed state as I understand it partially due to this "put 'em in jail and throw the key away" mentality. And it's nearly impossible to find mental health care if you're low income or homeless. So lots of people fall through the cracks, and wind up jailed as a consequence of the crimes committed while they were untreated. It's just a goddamn shame.

  •  it's hard to know what to say (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cybrcamper, marykk, arodb, SoCalSal

    I'm going to go with that benign explanation as the reason that people have not commented.  Or maybe that it's a nice Sunday afternoon and no one is at the computer?  Either of these is better than thinking that no one would care about something as significant as this.

    Just because the world is going to hell in a handbag, the oil spill threatens to turn the Gulf and Atlantic coastlines into the La Brea Tar Pits, the GOP is still trying to block absolutely everything (and everyone) that Obama tries to get through, the rising vitriolic furor of the Tea Partiers, fueled by idiots like Palin and Beck, seems poised to help dismantle the Democratic majorities before the job is half begun, and the Supreme Court seems bent on turning us into a Corporate State, these are no reasons why we should stop paying attention to issues that, while nominally local in nature, ultimately affect us all.

    How we treat the mentally ill says a lot about our society.  How we treat that subset of the mentally ill who commit criminal acts says even more.  And if even a reasonable percentage of Gardner's tale is accurate, we have failed ourselves, those girls, society, and, yes, him, in the way that California responded in the wake of his original diagnosis and first accusation.

    I have no problem with this man going to prison for life, even if it means that, as he acknowledges, he may well be killed there.  He committed a horrific crime and ought to pay.  But I have a huge problem with a newspaper's vindictive campaign against him, taking advantage of public outcry to score passion points with its readers and meanwhile shredding the protections of the constitution in the process. In this country, the punishment is fitted to the crime.  A sexual assault on a minor is indeed an awful crime; there is no doubt about it.  But life in prison?  For a single offense?  

    When multiple homicides are freed after two or three decades in many places, this is a ridiculously excessive law.  What's next?  Where does it stop?  And the fact that the law might not even be based on reality is another factor that makes it completely obscene.

    I sympathize with all of the victims here, but this is most definitely not the way to go.

    Behind every successful woman is a substantial amount of coffee. ~Stephanie Piro

    by sunspark says on Sun May 02, 2010 at 03:23:19 PM PDT

    •  I knew someone thougtful would eventually... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cybrcamper, SoCalSal

      drop in.  Actually there have been one or two others.  This is a terribly difficult subject, and its loaded with contradictions and mixed emotions.

      I keep revising my own blog article, which makes some additional points.  I have a friend, Logan Jenkins, who is a regular columnist, usually local issues, at the UT.  

      He actually used the phrase "media excess" in one of his columns, but they pay his salary, so I doubt that he wants to do a frontal challenge of what is classic "yellow journalism."

      Most often when people defend those accused of a crime it is really defending due process, which at times can be excessive even if it must be preserved.  But in this case, Gardner wanted nothing from lawyers.  

      His interview was in the nature of asking redemption, but not personally.  He is a bright man, who has demons, yet he wants his experiences to provide a better way to stop future John Gardners.

      It is difficult for me to be in a position where I am praising someone who took the life of at least two innocent young women.  Yet, life is complicated.  

      He is also a figure in the trend towards ever more draconian punishment for crimes, even as we no longer have the means to indulge in this luxury. I've studied quite a bit of psychology, and pain is only adversive at a specific range.  As parole for these convicts reaches a point, the punishment is not only meaningless, but their "freedom" is no longer a positive reinforcer for good behavior.

      In other words, they are fucked....and so are we!  

  •  I'd hate to be in our shoes (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cybrcamper, marykk, arodb

    Crimes against children are especially offensive and are almost impossible to discuss dispassionately.  That can't be used to justify draconian sentencing.  A one-strike life sentence may make people feel better but it  will lead inevitably to injustice.  Will that law be applied to parents who abuse their children?  

    I agree that there is a lot of injustice in society's response to this problem, and that no one wants to protest.  Who wants to speak up for child abusers?  But  excessive sentences and medieval punishments accomplish nothing, and we liberals should be concerned.  I don't look forward to it.  Draconian punishment won't prevent it, but I don't have a solution to propose.

    I don't belong to an organized political party. I'm a Democrat.

    by docterry on Sun May 02, 2010 at 04:10:05 PM PDT

  •  Ummm..... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cybrcamper, arodb

    The new law named after one of Gardner's victims, Chelsea's Law, will be one strike and you're out, that's life in prison if convicted of sexual contact with a minor.  

    18 year old with 17 year old girlfriend included?

    Not the same thing by any measure, and I doubt you'd find many who'd disagree......

    They see me trollin'. They hatin' Don't make my high school civics teacher out to be a liar and expect me to like it.

    by obnoxiotheclown on Sun May 02, 2010 at 09:17:04 PM PDT

  •  may still be manipulative? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cybrcamper, arodb

    he's bipolar, not a sociopath.

    "May still be manipulative" is a concern we should have about Goldman Sachs executives, not some guy who couldn't get mental health care and ended up doing things everyone regrets.

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