Challenge of grand jury stops expected guilty plea

PLACERVILLE, Calif (AP) - An expected guilty plea by a convicted sex offender accused of kidnapping and raping a girl when she was 11 and holding her captive for 18 years was derailed Thursday when his lawyer alleged a grand jury was improperly selected and acted inappropriately.

Public defender Susan Gellman, who represents defendant Phillip Garrido, made the claim during a brief hearing where Garrido and his wife and co-defendant Nancy Garrido entered not guilty pleas to kidnapping, rape and other charges contained in an amended indictment.

Gellman did not elaborate on her claim in the courtroom but said outside that she had questions about the racial and geographic makeup of the grand jury that initially indicted the Garridos in September for abducting and imprisoning Jaycee Dugard, now 30.

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

He instructed Gellman to outline her objections in writing but indicated he would seal the motion when she submits it.

The developments came as a surprise after attorney Stephen Tapson, who represents Nancy Garrido, 55, said earlier this week that Phillip Garrido, 60, had agreed to plead guilty 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.

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

Neither attorney would elaborate on the specific concerns about the grand jury.

El Dorado County District Attorney Vern 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."

The next hearing was set for May 5, and the trial for Aug. 1.

Both defendants were in court for the 10-minute 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.

Garrido and his wife gave full confessions to authorities and expressed interest in plea bargains that would spare Dugard and her daughters - now 13 and 16 - from having to testify, Tapson has said.

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

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 gave birth to her daughters when she was 14 and 17, and Nancy Garrido delivered the children, according to court documents. The girls knew Phillip Garrido was their father but grew up thinking Dugard was their older sister.

The mother and daughters rarely interacted with the outside world. Phillip Garrido ran a printing business, and Dugard assisted him in producing business cards, brochures and flyers, occasionally interacting with clients through email.

In the days before his arrest, Phillip Garrido had become more determined to tell people about the religious group he founded called God's Desire and a box he had built that he believed allowed him to speak with God.

During that time, he delivered a handwritten screed titled "Origin of Schizophrenia Revealed" to the FBI's San Francisco office.

But it was a visit to the University of California, Berkeley, that same day that caused his ragged family to unravel. He showed up at campus with his daughters and Dugard in tow, seeking a permit for a religious event.

Campus police officers became suspicious, and after running a background check realized he had been convicted of kidnapping and raping a woman in Nevada in 1977.

The Berkeley officers contacted Garrido's parole officer, who was surprised to hear that he had young daughters and ordered him to come in for a meeting.

Garrido complied and, for reasons still unknown, brought his wife, the girls and Dugard.

Dugard was reunited with her mother the next day and has 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.

The Associated Press as a matter of policy avoids identifying victims of sexual abuse by name in its news reports

However, Dugard's disappearance had been known and reported for nearly two decades, making impossible any effort to shield her identity when she resurfaced.

Dugard's case revealed problems with California's system for monitoring convicted sex offenders after it was determined parole agents had missed numerous clues and chances to find her.

She received a $20 million settlement under which the state acknowledged repeated mistakes were made by parole agents responsible for monitoring Phillip Garrido. California has since increased oversight of sex offenders.


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