(AP Photo )
(AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
(AP Photo/Denis Poroy)
LOS ANGELES (CBS) Now that convicted sex offender John Albert Gardner III has been charged with murdering 17-year-old Chelsea King we are again asking "How could this happen?"
Photo: Former Los Angeles sex crimes prosecutor Robin Sax.
How could a man who admitted he molested a 13-year-old girl in 2000 serve only five years in jail when he could have served 30? How could he wind up living yards away from an elementary school?
Just two years ago Gardner's electronic monitoring bracelet came off and already a 23-year-old jogger says he attacked her, and prosecutors say he raped and murdered King and might be linked to the disappearance of 14-year-old Amber Dubois.
Photo: Chelsea King, 17.
How could this happen?
In this case, there are lots of questions, but only one answer--it should never have happened. There is no excuse, justification, or mitigation that can comfort the Kings or any of us for a murder and rape that simply could have been avoided.
Photo: John Albert Gardner pleads not guilty to killing Chelsea King in a San Diego court March 3, 2010.
The killing and rape of Chelsea King is a case of justice interrupted, a case of missed opportunities, and like TV commentator Jane Velez Mitchell has been saying, "junk justice."
Photo: Chelsea King's parents mourn their murdered daughter.
I am sure in the coming weeks we will hear more about why the prosecutor and judge allowed Gardner to plead to a mere year six sentence for molesting a 13-year old girl. But all the rationale in the world evades the real reason, and that is the system continues to fail those whom it was meant to protect.
This is not a case of bad laws, no victim, no resources, no past history, and no psychological analysis. Nope. It was all there up for grabs for the prosecutor and for the court to take into consideration and to dispense justice. So why did this happen?
Photo: Amber Dubois, 14. Is her disappearance tied to Gardner?
I suspect we will hear the good old-fashioned DA favorite throwaway line "the victim didn't want to testify." Duh...No one wants to testify. No one wants to go to court and definitely not a victim who has to see and point out her attacker in court. But not wanting to and not doing it are very different. And besides.... it may surprise you but testifying in court can be empowering, cathartic and beneficial to the victim.
I know. I have seen it first hand. There is something extremely powerful for a victim who comes into court and recognizes that she has the control and power, that she can tell her story, and be believed.
There are many problems within the "system" but in this case the problem was not a systemic problem but a specific bad call by a DA and a judge. To me, a problem that is pervasive with little or no recourse.
I can blog about it, Jane Velez Mitchell and Nancy Grace can yell about it, but nothing will change until there is accountability. The downfall to the system is that people accept that different standards and rules apply to those who hold the power in those county, city, state, and federal buildings.
What is this different standard that I am speaking of? It's called immunity. Immunity in this sense means that one cannot sue or hold accountable a judge, a prosecutor, or a cop for mere negligence. You can hold them responsible for intentional torts (like batteries, assaults, false imprisonment and the like) but you can't sue them because they could have done their job better.
No recourse for negligence is quite different than any other profession. If a doctor negligently forgot to do something that caused injury you can sue, if a plumber negligently forgot to install a pipe and you had a major leak you could sue, if an accountant negligently forgot something on your tax return causing penalty, you could sue. But let me give you examples of where someone probably can't sue:
A child sexual assault case where a victim was accused of being drugged sits on a detective's desk for a year and during that time another kid is missing or dead, probably can't sue due to immunity;
A prosecutor didn't see that the perp was a repeat offender and offered a plea deal assuming that this was the first incident, no ability to sue;
A judge didn't grant a restraining order and the perp goes out and kills the person who was supposed to be restrained, no lawsuit against judge.
So what are the ramifications? Bad press, office and post reassignments, egg on the face. But that's basically it. How does this help the King family, the Duggards, Lily Burke's parents, or the victims of Anthony Sowell?
If prosecutors, judges, and cops, had personal accountability and liability like the rest of the world does in any business setting) then negligence would not only be not tolerated but perhaps it would actually decrease and perhaps then we would stop hearing about the missed opportunities, justice malfunctions, and the like.
There is no justification for this case, but this case can be an opportunity. We can all scream that Gardner was not a low-level offender and that he was a high-risk, violent offender, who should have been put away for life. But, let's get away from this individual case and start looking at individual accountability for those who we hold to protect us and our children. It's time to demand responsibility and accountability and not accept the veil of immunity as the status quo.
MORE ON CRIMESIDER
March 2, 2010 - Chelsea King Update: Sex Offender Stonewalling Cops (PICTURES)
March 2, 2010 - Chelsea King (PICTURES): Who is John Albert Gardner III?
March 2, 2010 - Chelsea King Update: Police Find Missing Teen's Underwear, Says Mom
March 2, 2010 - Chelsea King, Poway High School Star, Remains Missing
March 1, 2010 - Chelsea King Update: Cops Fear 17-Year-Old Was Raped, Killed by Sex Offender John Gardner (PICTURES)
March 1, 2010 - Chelsea King Facebook: 45,000 Log On To Find Missing Teen (PICTURES)
March 1, 2010 - Chelsea King: Arrest of Sex Offender Doesn't Bring Missing Teen Home (PICTURES)
Robin Sax is a former Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney who specialized in prosecuting sex crimes against children. Sax is also the author of several books including "It Happens Every Day: Insider the World of a Sex Crimes D.A.," "Predators and Child Molesters: What Every Parent Needs to Know to Keep Kids Safe." Sax is a director for the Amber Alert Registry, an instructor for the LAPD and a regular commentator on "Today," "Nancy Grace" and "Larry King Live."