Vallejo kidnap suspect Matthew Muller pleaded not guilty Monday to a federal charge that he abducted Denise Huskins last March in a case so strange that local police originally called it a hoax, a claim that has helped turn the incident into a national media sensation.
Muller, a former Marine and Harvard Law School graduate who grew up in Sacramento, did not speak during the brief hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Kendall J. Newman in the federal courthouse in downtown Sacramento.
He appeared in an orange jail jumpsuit with his hands cuffed in front of him and attached to a waist chain, and defense attorney Tom Johnson lost his effort to have his client appear in court with less severe security measures.
Johnson has argued that Muller, 38, has appeared previously in Alameda Superior Court without incident and cannot move his arms if he remains fully shackled. Newman noted that Muller had been “exceedingly well-behaved” in previous hearings, but added that the nature of the allegations made it necessary to maintain the security measures for him.
“I do find that full shackling is appropriate for Mr. Muller,” Newman said before setting the next hearing in the case for Nov. 5.
Muller, who is being held without bail in the Sacramento County jail, is accused of hatching a kidnap plot that resulted in the drugging and abduction of Denise Huskins from the Mare Island home she was sharing with her boyfriend, Aaron Quinn.
Huskins and Quinn, both 30, were the victims of a break-in by a kidnapper who allegedly drugged them both, warned Quinn he was being watched by a video camera and then left with Huskins in Quinn’s car.
Quinn fell asleep afterward because of the drug, and after he called police the next day to report Huskins’ abduction he ended up as a suspect, according to a legal claim the couple have filed against the city of Vallejo. The claim also states that Huskins was sexually assaulted by her abductor twice in the two days she was held before being released on the streets of Huntington Beach.
Vallejo police originally labeled the incident a “hoax,” something the police chief subsequently apologized for in private letters to the pair.
Johnson requested a jury trial for Muller and has said there will be no deal sought, although he has suggested in the past that his client suffers from mental illness. Muller could spend life in prison if convicted of the single kidnapping count for which he was indicted last week by a federal grand jury.
Muller’s family has appeared at both of the Sacramento hearings held in the case so far, but has declined to speak to reporters drawn from Sacramento and the Bay Area.
However, Steve Reed, a lifelong family friend and former Sacramento police officer, said after court that the allegations have weighed heavily on the Muller family.
“This is national exposure,” said Reed, who was the well-known head of security for Arden Fair mall for years before his retirement in January. “The family is devastated.
“They’re having a very difficult time with it.”
Reed said he had known Muller “since he was a kid.”
“I’ve held him as a baby,” he said.
He added that it was difficult to see Muller in court after watching him grow up into a college graduate and attorney.
“It breaks your heart when you see somebody in shackles and an orange jumpsuit, especially when you have a relationship with them,” he said. “I’m here to support the family, not the alleged acts, but they’re friends of mine and I’m going to be there for them.”
Reed said Muller “is well-aware of what’s going on, obviously, he was an attorney.”
“I want to see the process go through in a timely manner and have it go through in the right way,” Reed added. “And if Matt needs help, I want Matt to get the help he needs.”