Can Gardner's parents be blamed in Chelsea's death? - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Can Gardner's parents be blamed in Chelsea's death?

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SAN DIEGO, Cailf. (CBS 8) - The man accused of murdering 17-year-old Chelsea King was staying at his parents' home at the time of her death. As a convicted sex offender, John Gardner is required to register his residence, but he never registered at the Rancho Bernardo home.

A picture of John Gardner inside his mom's Rancho Bernardo home, where he was living at times, despite never registering here as a sex offender. Authorities didn't know about Gardner's secret residence, but his mother did. So can police go after her?

"It's stretching the argument under criminal law that would be harboring a fugitive cause he's not really a fugitive," News 8 legal analyst Kerry Steigerwalt said.

Stiegerwalt says the only way Gardner's mom could be held criminally responsible for his actions is if police could prove she knew what he was doing.

"Somebody has to be able to establish knowledge on her part for her to have any exposure," he said.

If John Gardner was under 18, things would certainly be different for his mom, who lives in the home with Gardner's stepfather. Under something called vicarious liability they could be held responsible for their kid's actions, even if they weren't there when the crime was committed.

But Gardner is 30, so while his parents may have an ethical and moral duty to protect society from John Gardner, their liability ends there.

"At some point in time, your responsibility as a parent ends and that point in time is when the child turns 18," Steigerwalt said.

That extends to civil cases too. So Chelsea King's parents won't have much luck if they go after Gardner's parents for money.

Truth be told, they won't have much luck if they go after John Gardner either, even if he is convicted of Chelsea's murder.

"You're limited to what he had, even if he had insurance, no insurance coverage policy would cover that because it's an intentional act," Steigerwalt said.

The Kings haven't said if they plan to sue Gardner, but no amount of money can buy them what they really want - the safe return of their precious daughter.

Gardner has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for Aug. 4.

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