Matthew Muller: Guilty plea in abduction of Vallejo woman

SACRAMENTO (KTVU &BCN) -- The Harvard-educated attorney suspected of kidnapping a Vallejo woman pleaded guilty Thursday to the crime, which had initially been ruled a hoax by investigators.

After entering the guilty plea, a federal judge ordered Matthew Muller, 39, to return to court on Jan. 19, 2017 for sentencing. As part of a plea deal, prosecutors will recommend he be sentenced to no more than 40 years in prison.

Muller's attorney said his client wanted to take responsibility for kidnapping Denise Huskins. In court, Muller acknowledged that he suffers from mental illness and takes medication. After asking Muller a series of questions, the judge said he was satisfied that Muller was changing his plea voluntarily and that his judgment was clouded by any of his medications.

Before entering his plea, Muller was found by the court to be competent to understand the proceedings against him. Muller previously told investigators that he was a U.S. Marine from 1995 to 1999. He said he suffered from "Gulf War illness and problems with psychosis" and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2008.

He later attended Harvard University from 2003 to 2006 and earned a law degree, but was disbarred in Massachusetts in 2015.

"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."

The abduction happened between 3 and 5 a.m. on March 23, 2015, when Muller broke into the Mare Island home shared by Huskins and her boyfriend, Aaron Quinn. Muller threatened the victims with a stun gun and a simulated firearm and ordered them to lie still while he bound, blindfolded and drugged them, prosecutors said.

He then put Huskins into the trunk of a car and drove her to his home in South Lake Tahoe where he held her hostage for two days. He emailed ransom demands totaling $15,000 and sent a "proof of life" audio recording of the woman to reporter Henry Lee, claiming the kidnapper was part of a group of a group of elite criminals perfecting their kidnapping tactics.

Before Muller was arrested for the crime, Vallejo police accused Huskins and Quinn of faking the kidnapping and demanded an apology from them for wasting police resources..

Huskins and Quinn are currently suing Vallejo police for "destroying their reputations."

Dublin police and the FBI connected Muller to the Vallejo incident after a similar home invasion robbery in Dublin a few months later on June 5. In that case, a masked man broke into a couple's home as they slept and tried to bind them, but they attacked him and chased him out of the house.

Dublin police learned of two other similar incidents in Mountain View and Palo Alto. In both incidents, a masked man wearing all black bound, blindfolded and drugged sleeping victims and tried to rob them and rape them. Palo Alto police had even questioned Muller.

After Dublin police tracked Muller through a cell phone he left behind at the robbery scene, they arrested him in South Lake Tahoe on June 8, 2015.

Evidence connecting him to the Vallejo kidnapping was discovered at his mother's home, including recorded instructions that matched the recording described by the kidnapping victims and a video of Muller with the woman, bound and blindfolded, inside Muller's home, prosecutors said.

Vallejo police later apologized to the couple for calling the assault a hoax, but they still filed a lawsuit against the department earlier this year. The lawsuit, seeking damages for defamation, unreasonable search and seizure, false arrest and false imprisonment, is still pending.

In a deposition, police Detective Matthew Mustard said he found the couple's story implausible and inconsistent with the evidence available to him at the time.

Lt. Kenny Park, a department spokesman also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the case.

KTVU reporter Henry Lee contributed to this report.