PLACERVILLE, California (Reuters) - A California man pleaded not guilty on Thursday to kidnapping 11-year-old Jaycee Dugard in 1991 and holding her captive for 18 years, clearing the way for trial of the sensational case later this summer.
Phillip Garrido’s not guilty plea came as a surprise to reporters and court watchers after a lawyer for his wife and co-defendant, Nancy Garrido, had said the 59-year-old defendant would plead guilty under an agreement with prosecutors.
Attorney Steve Tapson, who represents Nancy Garrido, 55, said after the court hearing that a “legal problem” had arisen to scupper the potential plea deal.
“She’s disappointed that it hasn’t been resolved and that she has to sit in jail,” Tapson said of his client.
El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson declined to comment on plea negotiations with either defendant, who appeared in court wearing orange jail garb.
“Sometimes it is easy to jump the gun and think something is going to happen,” Pierson said in response to questions from reporters outside the courthouse.
“We will do everything within our power to make sure the case is over and done with as quickly as possible, hopefully by the end of summer,” he said.
“My responsibility is to see that these two are held accountable for the enormity of their actions.”
Phillip Garrido’s lawyer, Susan Gellman, meanwhile criticized Tapson for speaking to the press about her client and said she had not reached a deal with prosecutors.
During the hearing, Gellman told Superior Court Judge Doug Phimister that she would challenge the grand jury that indicted the Garridos in September of 2010.
The Garridos are charged with snatching Dugard, then 11, from a street near her South Lake Tahoe home on June 10, 1991 as she walked to catch a school bus. They allegedly held her captive in a squalid compound behind their home near Antioch for nearly two decades.
Authorities say Phillip Garrido fathered two girls with Dugard when she was a teen and kept them concealed until the convicted rapist aroused the suspicion of police while proselytizing at a college campus.
Dugard’s rescue in August of 2009, at the age of 29, made international headlines.
Tapson has said both Garridos had given “full confessions” to El Dorado County authorities and wanted to spare Dugard and her daughters, who are now 13 and 16, from testifying at a trial.
He maintains Nancy Garrido should be shown some degree of mercy from the court because she was under her husband’s sway during the abduction and did not participate in sexually abusing Dugard.
The couple met at the federal prison in Leavenworth, where Phillip Garrido was serving time for rape and Nancy was visiting another prisoner.
Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Jerry Norton