Sat, Apr 09, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Plea deal derailed in case of woman held captive

SURPRISE EVENT:The case hit a hurdle after the defense cited concerns about the racial and geographical makeup of the panel that originally indicted the two defendants


A 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 on 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 on Wednesday.

Nancy Garrido also pleaded not guilty on 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.

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 the no guilty plea 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.”

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