Plea deal derailed in case of woman held captive
Thursday, April 07, 2022 7:23 PM

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(Source: Associated Press/AP Online)By LISA LEFF and DON THOMPSON

PLACERVILLE, Calif. - A California woman who was abducted as a girl in 1991 and held captive for 18 years must wait longer to see justice done after an expected plea deal was derailed Thursday by defense concerns that a grand jury might have been improperly selected and acted inappropriately.

Phillip Garrido, a convicted sex offender charged with kidnapping Jaycee Dugard and fathering her two children by rape, entered a surprise plea of not guilty to an amended indictment that his lawyer intends to challenge.

"If there are defects in the grand jury, it's my job to argue those things and that's what I am going to do," Deputy Public Defense Susan Gellman told reporters after a 10-minute court hearing.

The developments were unanticipated because prosecutors and defense lawyers previously said they hoped to reach a settlement and spare Dugard, now 30, and her two daughters, ages 13 and 16, from having to testify.

Attorney Stephen Tapson, who represents Garrido's wife and co-defendant Nancy Garrido, 55, went even further, stating publicly that the couple gave full confessions to authorities and that Phillip Garrido, 60, had agreed to plead guilty at Thursday's hearing and spend the rest of his life in prison.

Gellman blasted Tapson for telling reporters that her client planned to plead guilty.

"He shouldn't have been speaking for Phillip. He should speak for his client," Gellman said, adding her client had not been offered any plea deal.

Tapson said he only found out about Gellman's plans late Wednesday.

Nancy Garrido also pleaded not guilty Thursday to kidnapping, rape and other charges contained in the amended indictment.

Tapson advised her against pleading guilty unless prosecutors offer a deal that holds the possibility - however remote - that she would one day be freed from prison.

Superior Court Judge Douglas Phimister set an Aug. 1 trial date. He instructed Gellman to outline her objections about the grand jury in writing but indicated he would seal the motion when she submits it.

El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson said he regretted the glacial pace of the case.

"We're going to do everything in our power to make sure the case is over and done with as early as possible, hopefully by the end of summer," Pierson said.

Pierson declined to comment when asked how Dugard felt when no guilty was entered and she was again confronted with the possibility of having to take the witness stand.

Gellman did not elaborate on her objections to the grand jury process in the courtroom but told reporters outside that she had questions about the racial and geographic makeup of the panel that initially indicted the Garridos in September.

During the hearing, the judge said the defense had raised "issues about the process itself before the grand jury" and whether the panel "acted appropriately during the proceeding."

Joe Dane, an Orange County defense lawyer and former prosecutor not associated with the case, said such motions are often used to undermine specific charges in an indictment by arguing that jurors did not have sufficient evidence.

If some of the counts are dismissed, it could reduce possible prison time.

Prosecutor Pierson said he wasn't concerned about the challenge to the grand jury and expects its actions to be upheld.

"My responsibility is to see that these two are held accountable for the enormity of their actions," Pierson said. "We are determined to do that."

Both defendants were in court for the hearing, wearing orange jail uniforms with their hands shackled. They exchanged greetings with each other when they were led into court, but only spoke after that when they agreed to waive their right to a speedy trial.

Dugard was snatched off her family's South Lake Tahoe street in June 1991 while walking to a school bus stop.

Authorities said she and her children were kept in a hidden backyard compound of tents and sheds, never attending school or receiving medical attention.

They were discovered in August 2009 when authorities said Phillip Garrido took them to a meeting with his parole officer.

Phillip and Nancy Garrido were initially charged with 18 counts of kidnapping, rape, false imprisonment, child pornography and committing lewd acts on a child.

The amended indictment has 17 counts and was changed to make the charges consistent with laws that were on the books at the time of the alleged offenses, Pierson said.

Under the previous indictment, the maximum sentence for Nancy Garrido would have been 181 years to life, while Phillip Garrido could have gotten 431 years to life.

Possible prison time under the amended indictment would be about the same, Tapson said

Dugard has been reunited with her mother and remained in Northern California with her and her daughters. She requested privacy and has not attended any of the court hearings. She is writing her memoirs, which are scheduled to be published in September.

She received a $20 million settlement under which the state acknowledged repeated mistakes were made by parole agents responsible for monitoring Phillip Garrido because of his 1977 conviction for raping and kidnapping a woman in Reno. California has since increased oversight of sex offenders.

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