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Chelsea King's death could have been prevented

By Jane Velez-Mitchell, HLN
  • Jane Velez-Mitchell: Chelsea King, 17, was straight-A student, track star, volunteer
  • Velez-Mitchell: Chelsea killed in a park where a young woman had been attacked earlier
  • Author thinks suspect, a sex offender, should have been in jail longer for crime
  • She writes: If suspect had been in jail, if a sign warned of earlier attack, Chelsea might be alive

Editor's note: Jane Velez-Mitchell hosts "Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell," a topical event-driven show with a wide range of viewpoints that airs every night on HLN at 7 p.m. ET.

(CNN) -- Chelsea King, 17, was a straight-A student, a high school track star and she loved to volunteer. Now, she's been killed, the latest victim of what you could call "junk justice."

When Chelsea went running in a San Diego, California, park, it's doubtful she had any idea that another young female runner had been attacked in that very same park just a couple of months before.

That first victim said she feared her attacker was going to rape her. She managed to get away by elbowing the large man in the nose.

If there were falling rocks in that park, a warning sign would be up. If a hungry coyote had been spotted scrounging for food, a warning sign would tell you. But there was no warning at all that a human predator, on the hunt for young women, might be in the park. If there had been a sketch of this suspect, or a warning posted, Chelsea might not have gone running alone there.

Police said DNA on Chelsea's underwear led them to 30-year-old John Gardner III. They showed his picture to the first runner and she said, "He's the same guy." Now he's been charged with Chelsea's rape and murder.

The suspect was a registered sex offender. In 2000, he lured a 13-year-old girl into his home on the pretext of watching the movie "Patch Adams." Once he got her inside, he molested her and beat her to a pulp before she escaped.

Before Gardner was sentenced, a psychiatrist warned that he showed no remorse and would likely attack a young girl again. He recommended "the maximum sentence allowed by law."

The courts sentenced Gardner to six years; he got out after five. Five years for pummeling a 13-year-old girl in the face and fondling her. That is "junk justice."

If Gardner had been prosecuted to the full extent of the law then, he would have been behind bars when Chelsea went for a run on February 25. Her grieving mom spoke directly to this point to Larry King Thursday night..."I mean how many times do our daughters need to be raped before we put these monsters behind bars forever? I just don't -- I don't get it. Change has to be made. And I know that there are people out there that are -- that are trying to, you know, get this change in place. And Brent and I are committed for the rest of our lives to be a part of that."

We need to switch our focus from punishment to prevention. Our system only kicks into high gear after the fact. In this case, a warning sign, something that simple, would have cost a fraction of the millions it might take to prosecute and house the killer. A warning sign that a woman had been attacked in the park could have possibly saved Chelsea's life.

In California, for every one parole officer there are 70 criminals. Companies like Google, FedEx, and eBay use high-tech systems to track packages and information. We already have the technology in the form of ankle bracelets to track the sex predators so why not use it?

Think about this. We can carefully track the delivery of a package across the country but don't keep track of a sex offender who weighs more than 200 pounds. It's time that we demand the most basic freedom of all, and that is freedom from fear.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jane Velez-Mitchell.