As expected, a disbarred Harvard University-trained attorney charged with a bizarre kidnapping pleaded guilty Thursday to snatching a young woman from her Vallejo home last year.
A shackled Matthew Muller acknowledged in federal court in Sacramento that he snatched a woman and held her for ransom.
Muller calmly told U.S. District Judge Troy Nunley that he was taking antidepressant, mood stabilizing and anti-psychotic drugs. His attorney, Thomas Johnson, later said Muller has been diagnosed as manic and depressive.
Still, Nunley said he found Muller competent to enter the guilty plea.
Muller, of South Lake Tahoe, previously pleaded not guilty to abducting Denise Huskins in March 2015.
The 39-year-old could face life in prison when he is sentenced, though prosecutors have agreed as part of his guilty plea to recommend a maximum term of 40 years.
"If there ever was a man who deserved to spend his life behind bars, it's Matthew Muller," Huskins' attorney Doug Rappaport said at a news conference Thursday.
According to the terms of the plea change, prosecutors have also agreed to not 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.
"There's a tremendous amount of remorse," Johnson said in an interview outside the courtroom. He said his client has "tremendous potential," and he was hopeful Muller could be rehabilitated.
The plea agreement also recommends that Muller be "subject to the most intensive supervision, surveillance, and monitoring that is technologically available at the time of his release," according to the U.S. Attorney's office.
Huskins' boyfriend Aaron Quinn reported that kidnappers broke into the couple's Vallejo home, abducted Huskins and demanded a ransom.
While the couple that was terrorized by Muller held back tears, Rappaport expressed outrage at the plea agreement.
"So far the system has failed Denise Huskins and Aaron Quinn," he said. "This is not a man whose fancy law degree or background should give him a pass. This is a man who deserves to do life in prison."
But Johnson countered that Muller's guilty plea demonstrates him taking "ownership of what he did."
"He didn't want to have a trial where Ms. Huskins would have to testify," he said.
Court documents show that Muller entered the couple's Mare Island residence between 3 and 5 a.m. March 23. Armed with a stun gun and replica firearm, he forced the pair to lie still while he tied and blindfolded them, and made them drink "sleep-inducing liquid," according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's office.
Muller also used a prerecorded message to instill fear in Huskins and Quinn that disobedience would result in them being electrocuted or their faces being cut, the statement said.
"He held a knife to my son's neck," Aaron Quinn's mother, Marianne Quinn said. "He told my son that if he went to the police he would kill my husband and myself."
Muller then dumped Huskins in a car trunk and took her to his Tahoe home, where she stayed bound and blindfolded for two days.
"It's no secret that she was sexually assaulted not once, but twice," Rappaport said.
In the meantime, Muller emailed Quinn ransom demands of $15,000. No ransom had been paid when he released Huskins in Huntington Beach on March 25, the statement said.
Muller also sent emails to a San Francisco reporter, both during and after the kidnapping, alleging that an elite group of criminals was behind the abduction.
After Huskins reappeared, Vallejo police initially called the kidnapping a hoax.
Huskins sued, accusing police of wrongly likening the case to the movie "Gone Girl" and damaging the reputations of her and her boyfriend.
Attorneys for police have said investigators doubted Quinn's account of the abduction and grew more skeptical when Huskins refused to reunite with her family soon after she reappeared.
"This is more justice than we've ever got, but there won't be real justice until the people who botched up the investigation are held accountable," Marianne Quinn said after Muller pleaded guilty.
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 helped police arrest Muller and led them to his Tahoe home, where they discovered evidence linking him to the March abduction. In a storage locker belonging to the suspect, Vallejo police also found aerial drones referred to in Muller's emails to the reporter.
An FBI investigation revealed a recording that matched the one that had been used to instruct Huskins and Quinn as well as a video recorded in Muller's South Lake Tahoe house when Huskins was under his control.
Muller was later charged.
“Muller committed a serious and violent crime that terrorized the victims in this case," Acting U.S. Attorney Phillip Talbert said in a statement. "He violated the sanctity of their home and caused fear and panic for all those affected by the kidnapping."
Admitted to practice law in California in 2011, Muller's state bar profile says he attended Harvard Law School. However, he lost his law license last year over allegations that he took a $1,250 advance from a client then failed to file a green card application for the person's son.
At his sentencing on Jan. 19, 2017, Muller could also be asked to pay a $250,000 fine. According to Rappaport, Huskins and Quinn will speak in court that day.
"They want the judge to hear them and the world to hear what they had to go through and what this meant to them," he said.