He was in court for just minutes, but the mere sight of the convicted sex offender charged with raping and murdering 17-year-old Chelsea King set off a fresh round of outrage that reached as far as the White House.
In the hours before his court appearance in San Diego Wednesday, someone spray painted his mother's garage with the words, "Chelsea's blood is on you -- move out." And neighbors screamed at two men who tried to paint over it.
"You're protecting somebody who has killed an innocent girl," one yelled. "Get out of here."
John Walsh, host of "America's Most Wanted," said he met with President Obama Wednesday to discuss child protection laws and funding for the Adam Walsh Act, signed three years ago by President Bush.
The law promised to create a national registry of sex offenders and keep closer track of the most violent of them, but it did not come with the funds needed to carry it out.
"President Obama said yesterday, 'As the father of two girls, John, I will get the Adam Walsh law funded,'" Walsh told "Good Morning America" today.
Walsh, whose 6-year-old son for whom the law is named and who was kidnapped and murdered in 1981, knows firsthand the grief King's parents are experiencing.
"They're in the worst place a parent could be," he said. "They look in that courtroom and see a guy who should have never been out on the streets."
King, a well-liked honors student, vanished after heading out for a jog in a semi-rural San Diego County park. Her body was found less than a week later, buried in a shallow grave near the shore of Lake Hodges, about a half-mile from her car.
But the outrage grew with the arrest of Gardner, a known violent sex offender who has since been charged with the December assault and attempted rape of 22-year-old Candice Moncayo in the same park where King's body was found.
"I think everyone asks the same question," Walsh said. "Why was this animal out on the streets?"
"The law should be once you offend, you're done, you're toast, you're in the slammer or you are executed," one angry woman said as she stood among protestors outside the courthouse.
Former San Diego County District Attorney Paul Pfingst was slightly more objective.
"I am of the view that people who do harm to teenage girls should go to Gitmo and stay there for the rest of their lives and be waterboarded," he said.
Authorities said Gardner may also be linked to the February 2009 disappearance of 14-year-old Amber DuBois, who vanished on her way to school, not far from where Gardner was living at the time.
"The girls are the exact similar build," Maurice DuBois said of his daughter and King. "Both white girls, both five-five, both 130 pounds."
Detectives across California are now looking into other unsolved cases involving young girls and considering whether there are any more possible links to Gardner.
Gardner pleaded guilty in 2000 to charges of committing lewd and lascivious acts on 13-year-old girl in his parents' home. He served five years of a six-year sentence and was on parole until 2008.
In court Wednesday, Gardner was flanked by two court officers. His head was shaved and his hands were manacled around the waist of his blue prison jumpsuit.