With two teary-eyed mothers looking on, convicted sex offender John Albert Gardner III pleaded guilty Friday to raping and murdering both Chelsea King, 17, and Amber Dubois, 14, in a plea agreement that called for life in prison, and for Gardner to reveal details about how they vanished and died.
Chelsea's parents said they agreed to the deal because they wanted to spare their son the strife of continuing litigation, as well as provide Amber's grieving family a measure of peace.
"The Dubois family has been through unthinkable hell the past 14 months," Brent King said at a news conference, reading a joint statement with his wife, Kelly. "We couldn't imagine the confession to Amber's murder never seeing the light of day, leaving an eternal question mark."
After Gardner, a 31-year-old registered sex offender, was arrested in Chelsea King's death in late February, he was named a suspect in the death of Amber, who vanished while walking to school on Feb. 13, 2009.
Prosecutors said they were confident they could win a conviction against Gardner in Chelsea's death, but conceded Friday that they didn't have enough evidence in Amber's killing.
Gardner led authorities to Amber's bones on condition that prosecutors couldn't use that information against him. They would have to build a case on their own.
At the news conference after Friday's hearing, San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said investigators tried to connect Gardner to Amber's death independently of his confession but were unable to.
"Accepting this plea has been an extremely difficult decision," she told reporters. "We have the evidence to pursue a murder charge against the defendant for Chelsea's murder but not for Amber's murder."
Chelsea King, a straight-A, college-bound student, disappeared on a run Feb. 25 in a San Diego park. Gardner admitted in court that he attacked her and dragged her to a remote area where he raped and strangled her within an hour. He buried her in a shallow, lakeside grave.
Gardner was arrested three days later outside a Mexican restaurant in suburban Escondido. He was linked to the killing through DNA found on Chelsea's clothing.
Gardner also pleaded guilty Friday to attempting to rape a woman Dec. 27 near the spot where Chelsea King vanished. The woman escaped.
He is scheduled to be sentenced June 1. Defense attorneys left the courtroom without speaking to reporters.
The Kings are campaigning for "Chelsea's Law" in California, which would send some child molesters to prison for life after a first conviction, and monitor others with tracking technology until they die.
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