SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — A peculiar San Francisco Bay Area kidnapping case that was initially deemed a hoax by police was resolved Thursday, as a former Marine-turned-Harvard-educated attorney pleaded guilty to a federal count of kidnapping.
Matthew Muller, 39, changed his plea in federal court in Sacramento, admitting Thursday to kidnapping a woman after invading her Vallejo home last March. According to court documents, Muller drugged victim Denise Huskins and her boyfriend and then traveled throughout California with her locked in the trunk.
As law enforcement opened a statewide search for Huskins, Muller was emailing Huskins' boyfriend Aaron Quinn with ransom demands and also contacted a Bay Area journalist about the kidnapping.
Several days after the abduction, Huskins was found more than 400 miles away in Huntington Beach near her parents' home.
The high-profile case stirred a nationwide media frenzy after the Vallejo Police Department publicly questioned whether Huskins had actually disappeared and if her boyfriend was involved.
Muller was eventually arrested more than two months after Huskins' kidnapping, when he was tied to another Bay Area home invasion. Police searched his home in South Lake Tahoe and found recordings and other evidence from the Vallejo incident.
Vallejo police apologized to the couple after Muller was arrested. Huskins and Quinn responded by filing a federal lawsuit against the department earlier this year, claiming defamation and false arrest.
Vallejo is a city of 116,000, northeast of San Francisco and west of Sacramento.
On Thursday prosecutors said Muller committed a "violent crime that terrorized the victims in this case."
"He violated the sanctity of their home and caused fear and panic for all those affected by the kidnapping," acting U.S. Attorney Phillip Talbert said in a statement.
Muller's trial was initially scheduled for January, but he changed his plea Thursday to avoid a potential maximum sentence of life without the possibility of parole if convicted. Federal prosecutors agreed not to seek any additional charges or recommend a sentence longer than 40 years in exchange for Muller's guilty plea.
U.S. District Judge Troy Nunley will sentence Muller - who also faces a maximum $250,000 fine - on Jan. 17.Follow @@NickCahill_5
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