SAN DIEGO — Parents of two teenage girls who were raped and murdered by a sex offender took turns at the podium of a California courtroom giving loving descriptions about their daughters.
Their audience Friday included John Albert Gardner III, who was minutes away from being sentenced to life in prison for the crimes.
"Chelsea was everything this man was not," said Brent King, the father of one of the victims. "She was as good as this man is evil."
Gardner, 31, breathed heavily and cried at times during the emotional statements, delivered by family members just before Superior Court Judge David Danielsen pronounced the sentence.
Gardner received two life terms without possibility of parole for murdering Chelsea King, 17, and Amber Dubois, 14, and a third life term with a 25-year minimum for the attempted rape of Candice Moncayo, a jogger who escaped by smashing him in the nose with an elbow.
Dubois devoured books, adored animals and stood in pouring rain because she loved nature, said her mother, Carrie McGonigle.
Amber's backpack was filled with Valentine's Day cards for friends on the day she was abducted while walking to school in suburban Escondido in February 2009, McGonigle said. The Future Farmers of America member was also carrying a check to buy a lamb, she said.
Brent King said it was especially bittersweet to receive acceptance letters recently from all 11 colleges to which Chelsea had applied before her death in February.
He said he loved changing his daughter's diapers and, years later, talking with her about global issues, competition, life's pressures and her dreams. They marveled at the beauty of plants and animals and joked about God's sense of humor in creating the platypus, he said.
Gardner, who reached a plea deal last month that spared him the death penalty, cried during a video of Amber's life. He showed a flash of anger when Moncayo, asked about his smashed nose, veering from her prepared remarks.
Moncayo said she came to ask "to remove this man from our world, to make us a little safer by locking him up permanently and to finally free us from the nightmare he created."
Gardner raised his head when Kelly King, Chelsea's mother, demanded that she look at him. He refused when she asked him a second time.
"Why am I not surprised?" she said.
Gardner's crimes have sparked a far-reaching review of how California deals with sex predators, a campaign that advocates hope to take to Washington, D.C., and to state legislatures.
Chelsea's parents are leading a campaign for "Chelsea's Law" to allow life sentences for some convicted child molesters in California and lifetime electronic monitoring of others. The bill, which cleared its first legislative committee last month, would also ban sex offenders from parks.
The Kings on Friday also blamed Gardner's mother, Catherine Osborn, for failing to stop her son, who served five years of a six-year prison sentence for molesting a 13-year-old neighbor in 2000.
Brent King, turning to address her in her front-row seat, said she would always bear "our pain on your soul."
"She knew what you were capable of and did nothing," Kelly King said. "She lacked the humanity and human decency to do the right thing ... Your mother will always be intertwined with your horrific crime because she did nothing."
Osborn dabbed her face with tissue as McGonigle described her devastating loss. McGonigle said she often obsessed about her daughter's final moments.
"Was she scared? Was she calling my name? No one can appreciate the horror that is my life until they can appreciate the joy that was my Amber," she said.
Calls to stiffen penalties for child sex offenders began almost the moment Gardner was arrested Feb. 28, three days after he attacked Chelsea on an afternoon run in San Diego, strangled her, and buried her in a shallow, lakeside grave.
Gardner faced a maximum of nearly 11 years in prison for molesting his neighbor in 2000, but prosecutors called for six years. A court-appointed psychiatrist urged the maximum sentence allowed by law. He said in court documents that Gardner was a "continued danger to underage girls" and "an extremely poor candidate" for treatment.
Maurice Dubois, Amber's father, read from psychiatrist Matthew Carroll's report during his statement in court Friday.
He likened his daughter's killer to a mountain lion whose instincts are to stalk and attack. If the zookeeper frees the lion from captivity, he asked, who is responsible for the killings that come after?
"It's obvious the legal system failed us with all of the missed opportunities that ultimately allowed this monster to stalk our streets and harm our loved ones," he said.
The case has also put California's parole system under the microscope, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has ordered a state board to review the system.
Gardner lived little more than a football field's length from a San Diego preschool for at least 16 months while on parole from 2005 to 2008. That violated a condition of parole that prohibited him from living within a half-mile of a school.
A corrections department official let him stay until his lease expired in 2006 but no one noticed he was still living there until a year later. The parole board could have sent him back to prison but kept him on parole, where he had six other less serious potential violations.
The discovery of Chelsea's semen-stained clothing during a massive search quickly led authorities to Gardner. Days later, he led investigators to Amber's remains in a remote, mountainous area north of San Diego.
The investigation into Amber's disappearance had gone nowhere since she disappeared in early 2009.
Gardner led authorities to Amber's remains on condition that the information not be used in court. Investigators were unable to independently link him to the crime, and his guilty plea to that murder was a big reason why the death penalty was dropped.