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Innocent plea in death of missing teen

SAN DIEGO, March 3 (UPI) -- The man accused of murdering a San Diego teenage girl pleaded innocent Wednesday and prosecutors said they had not decided whether to seek the death penalty.

John Albert Gardner III, 30 -- a registered sex offender who has been charged with one count of murder in the death of Chelsea King -- also pleaded innocent to a charge of assaulting a jogger, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported. The murder charge was accompanied by a special allegation that King was killed during a rape or attempted rape, a condition that would permit prosecutors to seek capital punishment.

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San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said her office will take into consideration the wishes of the victim's family in deciding whether to seek the death penalty.

"We include everyone in that process and we understand the somber nature of the death penalty and that it should be used and exercised in those cases that are the most serious," Dumanis said.

San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said King's body was found in a shallow grave Tuesday. King, 17, disappeared Feb. 25 and authorities soon arrested Gardner -- who was linked to the girl's disappearance after authorities allegedly found his DNA on some of the girl's clothing located near the suspected abduction site.

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Authorities are investigating whether Gardner may also be connected to the February 2009 disappearance of Amber DuBois, 14, ABC News reported.

The Union-Tribune said the San Diego home where Gardner's mother and stepfather live was vandalized Wednesday. Police said the phrase "Chelseas blood is on you move out" was spray-painted on the couple's garage door by an unknown individual.

Garner was being held without bail. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for March 18.

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