In a searing and emotional court hearing that had spectators holding back tears, the victims of Vallejo kidnapper Matthew Muller confronted him for the first time Thursday, describing the pain he had caused the young couple and their families before a judge ordered him sent off to prison for 40 years.
Aaron Quinn and Denise Huskins described in graphic detail the havoc that Muller’s twisted abduction plot wreaked on their lives, recounting in a packed federal courtroom in downtown Sacramento how Muller “strategically destroyed our lives” and left Quinn’s young nieces still asking their parents to check under the beds at night for signs of Muller.
“I still have nightmares every night,” Huskins, 31, said to Muller during a nearly 30-minute soliloquy that she delivered at times in a brave, strong voice, and at others fighting back sobs. “For over a year if I came home alone, I would grab a knife and look behind every door, in every corner. I have a hammer by my bed that I reach for in the worst of my nightmares.
“Sleep is not rest for me, it is a trigger … I still can’t make sense of any of this.”
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U.S. District Judge Troy L. Nunley told Huskins and Quinn they may never be able to find closure from “a defendant who committed a heinous, atrocious, horrible crime.”
Muller, a former Marine and a Harvard-trained lawyer who grew up in Orangevale, offered little explanation, speaking briefly from the defense table after Huskins and Quinn.
“I’m still sick with shame that my actions have been so devastating to Ms. Huskins and Mr. Quinn,” said Muller, whose lawyer sought a 30-year sentence and noted that Muller had suffered from severe mental illness for years.
Nunley rejected the defense recommendation, instead going along with a plea agreement prosecutors reached that called for a 40-year sentence, despite pleas from Quinn and Huskins that no one would be safe from Muller if he ever walked free again.
The sentencing came almost exactly two years after Muller, 39, slipped into the couple’s home at 3 a.m. on March 23, 2015, and restrained them with zip ties, blindfolds and headphones, then drugged them both. Muller left Quinn, 32, behind in the home with a warning that he was being watched on camera and should not call police.
He dumped Huskins into the trunk of Quinn’s car, then drove off and switched vehicles – leaving her blindfolded in the trunk again – and took her to a South Lake Tahoe family home where he raped her twice. Muller held her for two days before driving her to Southern California and releasing her.
Prosecutors say Muller used elaborate tactics – including recorded voices and whispers and a blow-up doll dressed in military garb – during the abduction to convince Huskins and Quinn he was part of a kidnap gang. Vallejo police later found the story so outlandish that they labeled the reported abduction a hoax for which the couple should apologize.
On Thursday, Quinn addressed Muller first, recalling how the kidnapper told him the event would last only 48 hours and then “we can move on with our lives.”
“When does this 48 hours end?” Quinn asked him, saying Muller had “turned my life upside down.”
“How many nights do I have to wake up Denise from a nightmare?” asked Quinn, a Del Oro High School graduate whose parents live in Penryn. “How many nights does she have to do that for me?”
Quinn spoke as though he still believed Muller had accomplices and that he still fears for his family, and he described the shame Huskins expressed to him after she was released and revealed Muller had raped her twice.
“She worried that she was damaged goods, that I would no longer want her,” Quinn said, adding in a direct comment to Muller: “You must be held accountable for your actions. Not because I need revenge, not because I want to see you suffer, but because society is safer with you behind bars for the rest of your life.”
Huskins spoke next, walking calmly to a lectern with her attorney, Douglas Rappaport, standing alongside. She took several deep breaths before speaking, then turned directly to the defense table where Muller sat in an orange jail jumpsuit and shackles.
She looked at Muller, and recalled how she had remained blindfolded during the abduction and knew him as “the voice.”
“Matthew Muller,” she calmly. “The voice has a face, it has a name. Now we finally meet, face to face, eye to eye. I am Denise Huskins, the woman behind the blindfold. The woman you drugged, tortured, raped and attempted to manipulate …”
She described the strange tale Muller told her, that he was working with a band of “gentleman criminals” and that he would not allow them to kill her.
“Gentleman criminals?” she asked. “Lucky me.”
Huskins recalled how she refused to scream or plead for her life “because I knew that’s what you wanted, what you were looking for, what thrilled you, motivated you.”
“You wanted to have that type of power over another being’s life,” she said, adding that at one point she tried to appease Muller by telling him how she had been molested as a girl of 12 and never reported the crime.
Huskins was unflinching for much of her statement, but was overcome with emotion as she described Muller’s second sexual assault.
“The second time you forced me to kiss you and say things to make it seem like we were a legitimate couple …” she said.
“The only way I got through it was to picture that it was Aaron that I was with, and that will haunt me for the rest of my life …” Huskins said before she began to quietly cry and broke off, whispering, “Oh, God, help me.”
Nunley asked if she wanted the court to take a break, but Huskins refused to stop. Quinn walked up to hold her as she wiped tears from her eyes with a tissue, then put her glasses back on and continued.
“I know that you have made countless excuses, from military to bipolar disorder to even vaccines,” she said. “Be a man, the so-called ‘powerful’ man that you try to fool yourself into being by tormenting others. Own up to your actions, take accountability, tell the truth.”
Muller showed no sign of emotion or reaction as the couple spoke, and his attorney, Tom Johnson, said after court that he was relieved his client has not been sentenced to life.
“A 40-year sentence was not unanticipated, and it’s not life,” he said.
Nunley indicated before the couple spoke in court that he expected to sentence Muller to the 40-year term, and despite their emotional pleas he told them “that still won’t bring you justice.”
“You’ve lost the ability to feel safe in your own home,” Nunley said. “I can’t give you that back.”
But the judge lauded them for their “courage and bravery” in delivering such heartfelt statements.
“You’re going down a path of healing, but you’re going to be okay because the strongest thing you have is each other,” Nunley said.