An attorney representing a Vallejo woman whose kidnap and sexual assault were initially dismissed as a hoax, lambasted law enforcement officials for botching up the investigation.
“So far, the system has failed Denise Huskins and Aaron Quinn,” lawyer Doug Rappaport said at a news conference Thursday.
The suspect, Matthew Muller of South Lake Tahoe, pleaded guilty earlier in the day to snatching Huskins from the couple’s Mare Island home and holding her for ransom.
Muller, a disbarred attorney whose state bar profile says he attended Harvard Law School, had previously pleaded not guilty to the March abduction.
The 39-year-old could face life in prison when he is sentenced, though federal prosecutors have agreed as part of his guilty plea to recommend a maximum term of 40 years.
“This is not a man whose fancy law degree or background should give him a pass,” Rappaport said. “This is a man who deserves to do life imprisonment. And as a criminal defense lawyer, I don’t say that lightly.
“In my 27 years of practice, if there ever was a man who deserved to spend his life behind bars, it's Matthew Muller.”
According to court documents, Muller broke into the couple’s home on March 23, armed with a stun gun and replica firearm. Forcing them to drink a "sleep-inducing liquid,” Muller also used a prerecorded message that promised electrocution and face cutting if Huskins and Quinn disobeyed his orders.
Muller then dumped Huskins in a car trunk and took her to his Tahoe home. There, she was drugged, blindfolded, tied to a bed and “sexually assaulted not once, but twice," Rappaport said.
In the meantime, Quinn went to the Vallejo Police Department to report Huskins’ kidnapping, but they responded by interrogating him for 17 hours, the attorney said. Quinn told police and the FBI to expect a ransom call from Muller on his cell phone.
“So what did they do? They keep Aaron’s cell phone on airplane mode,” Rappaport said. “The kidnapper called twice."
When Muller released Huskins two days later, she walked from the location where he dropped her off to her father’s home, “walking right past the police station,” Rappaport said.
“That was the fact that led [Vallejo police] to believe that she was lying. Because not in their wildest imagination could … a woman who had just been held for two days, possibly want her father before seeing a cop,” the attorney said, while Huskins silently staved off tears, standing behind him.
Huskins sued, accusing police of wrongly likening the case to the movie "Gone Girl" and damaging the reputations of her and her boyfriend.
When Huskins returned to the Bay Area, Rappaport said she was forced to “beg the Vallejo Police Department for a sexual assault exam.”
“It was deplorable the conduct that she had to go through, after … the inhuman conduct that she went through during the course of the kidnapping,” Rappaport said.
Huskins was also forced to hire a criminal defense attorney because she was being considered a suspect for “perpetrating a kidnapping hoax,” he said.
“After listening to her story, I myself was in tears,” Rappaport said. “Except afterwards, the FBI case Agent David Sesma took me aside and said, ‘I bet you, [I'm] 99 percent sure she’s lying and I intend to prosecute her.’”
Rappaport also claimed that Sesma failed to disclose a conflict of interest, stemming from a personal relationship between himself and the intended kidnapping victim. “It was another woman, who had a similar appearance to her, who had been residing in Mr. Quinn’s home previously.”
Rappaport accused law enforcement officials of having “tunnel vision" and turning Huskins and Quinn “into public pariahs.”
“They received death threats, their jobs evaporated from beneath them, friends didn’t return calls,” he said. “And that’s the way the system has failed these two people.”
Muller was not identified as a suspect in Huskins' kidnapping until he attempted a home invasion burglary in Dublin on June 5. The homeowner confronted Muller, who left his cell phone behind at the scene while fleeing.
The phone led police to Muller and then to evidence in his Tahoe home and a storage locker that linked him to the abduction.
He was later charged.
Rappaport insisted that U.S. District Judge Troy Nunley now has the choice of giving Muller a “simple slap on the wrist” or making sure he spends his life imprisoned.
“Given the factors, given the sophistication, given the sexual assault, given the use of a fabricated gun … and given the ransom demand, this judge has the ability to sentence Mr. Muller to life,” he said.
According to the terms of the plea change, federal prosecutors have agreed not to charge Muller with any other crimes. But Huskins and Quinn are pushing for the Solano County District Attorney to pursue charges, including burglary, auto theft, burglary with intent to kidnap, and sexual assault.
“It’s been an unfortunate bonding experience," during which Huskins and Quinn have “exhibited tremendous strength,” Rappaport said.
The couple views Muller’s guilty plea as a “large hurdle” that they have crossed, he admitted. Although relieved to be able to avoid a lengthy trial that would have forced them to “publicly relive the humiliation,” Rappaport said Huskins and Quinn “are not ready for relief at this point.”
The pair plan to speak at Muller’s sentencing Jan. 19 so the judge can hear about the traumatic experience.
Returning to what he views as the crux of the issue, Rappaport asked: “How is it that you conclude in a matter of hours, in such a complicated case, that these two have perpetrated a hoax, that the kidnapping was bogus? You couldn’t conclude that in a shoplifting, much less a complicated case like this.”
The Vallejo Police Department and FBI have yet to respond to the public accusations.