SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The California couple charged with abducting 11-year-old Jaycee Lee Dugard in 1991 and holding her captive for 18 years pleaded guilty on Thursday to kidnapping and sexual assault charges that carry life prison sentences.
Phillip Garrido, 59, who authorities say fathered two daughters by Dugard during her captivity, and his co-defendant wife, Nancy, 55, are scheduled to be formally sentenced on June 2, the El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office said.
The case made international headlines in 2009 when Dugard, forced to live nearly two decades in squalid tents and sheds in the backyard of the Garridos’ San Francisco Bay-area home, was rescued at age 29 with her daughters, then 11 and 15.
Garrido, a previously convicted rapist, had aroused police suspicions while proselytizing at a college campus.
Dugard, who turns 31 next week, issued a brief statement through a representative saying she was “relieved that Phillip and Nancy Garrido have finally acknowledged their guilt and confessed to their crimes against me and my family.”
Her family received a $20 million settlement in 2009 through a state victim’s compensation fund.
The California inspector general found that state officials failed to properly supervise Garrido after his release from a 10-year prison term for a 1976 rape, overlooking a series of parole violations that should have led to his earlier capture.
District Attorney Vern Pierson credited Dugard with enabling prosecutors to bring the Garridos to justice.
“Jaycee’s courage and willingness to confront her abductors in court directly led to the defendants’ plea and life sentences,” he said in a statement.
Under the plea deal, Phillip Garrido faces a sentence of 431 years to life, and his spouse 36 years to life, minus time already served. Both waived their rights to appeal
Nancy Garrido would be eligible for parole after 36 years if she lives that long. “The odds are she probably won’t get out, but she has a chance,” lawyer Steve Tapson told Reuters.
Dugard was snatched from a street near her South Lake Tahoe home on June 10, 1991, as she walked to catch a school bus.
She was forced to live in a makeshift compound at the Garridos’ home near Antioch, California, for 18 years, bearing two daughters fathered by Garrido when she was a teenager.
Their discovery came after Phillip Garrido brought Dugard and the girls with him to a meeting with a parole officer, who determined their identity.
Dugard, who has kept a low public profile since her rescue, reached a deal with publisher Simon and Schuster last year to recount her ordeal in a book.
Tapson said last month the Garridos had given police a full confession in hopes of securing a relatively lenient sentence for Nancy Garrido, who said she was under her husband’s sway and not involved in any the sexual abuse of Dugard.
But she ended up pleaded guilty to one count of rape — for aiding and abetting her husband, Tapson said — as well as one count of kidnapping. Phillip Garrido pleaded guilty to kidnapping as well as to 13 sexual assault counts alleged against him in the couple’s indictment.
He was expected to plead guilty three weeks ago under an earlier agreement with prosecutors, but an unspecified legal hitch scuttled the deal and he pleaded not guilty instead.
Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Jerry Norton