March 17, 2017 / 12:16 AM / 3 years ago

Ex-lawyer gets 40 years for California abduction first deemed hoax

(Reuters) - A Harvard-educated lawyer was sentenced on Thursday to 40 years in prison for a high-profile 2015 California kidnapping that drew comparisons to the film “Gone Girl,” ending a bizarre abduction saga that police first dismissed as a hoax.

Matthew Muller, 39, pleaded guilty in September to kidnapping Denise Huskins in Vallejo, California, near San Francisco, after breaking into the home where she and her boyfriend, Aaron Quinn, were sleeping, then tying up and drugging the couple.

Muller released Huskins, then a 30-year-old physical therapist, after holding her for two days and demanding ransom. She reappeared unharmed nearly 400 miles (644 km) away in her hometown of Huntington Beach, south of Los Angeles, then went into seclusion and retained an attorney.

The case drew national media attention as Vallejo police disputed Quinn’s claim that Huskins was forcibly abducted, suggesting instead that the incident was “an orchestrated event.”

The odd circumstances drew comparisons to the plot of the 2014 “Gone Girl,” which starred Ben Affleck as a writer whose wife fakes her own abduction.

Muller was indicted in the case only after being arrested for a different home invasion in which the Federal Bureau of Investigation found evidence linking him to Huskins’ kidnapping.

Vallejo police later apologized to Huskins and Quinn, who sued city authorities in March 2016 for smearing their reputations and other damages stemming from police actions during and after the kidnapping.

Huskins and Quinn declined through a spokesman to comment after the sentencing.

Prosecutors had agreed as part of their plea deal with Muller, a former Marine and disbarred attorney, to seek a 40-year prison term for him, rather than the maximum penalty of a life sentence.

FILE PHOTO: Huntington Beach police Crime Scene Investigator vehicle is seen at the family home of Denise Huskins in Huntington Beach, California March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Bob Riha Jr/File Photo

In letters to Judge Troy Nunley before the sentencing, Quinn and Huskins’ parents argued against leniency. Huskins’ mother also objected specifically to the fact that Muller was receiving a sentence only for kidnapping, despite her daughter’s allegations that she was sexually assaulted as well.

According to authorities’ account of the kidnapping, Muller was armed with a stun gun and a replica firearm when he crept into the couple’s home, ordered them to lie still while he bound and blindfolded them and forced them to drink a sedative.

He also played a prerecorded message threatening to slash or electrically shock the victims if they resisted, then drove Huskins away in the trunk of his car, court documents said.

Reporting by Tom James in Seattle; Editing by Steve Gorman

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