Victim's mother says Vallejo kidnapping case was 'botched' by police, FBI
Federal prosecutors say Matthew Muller is a dangerous predator, a man who has posed a threat to society for years and carried out “serial acts of evil” that include his most infamous crime: the March 2015 kidnapping of Denise Huskins from a Vallejo home in the middle of the night.
For that incident and others that he has yet to be charged with – including the videotaped sexual assault of Huskins while she was his captive – Muller should be sent to prison for 40 years, kept behind bars in a federal facility until he is too frail to cause further harm, the government says.
“Muller is extremely dangerous,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Segal wrote in court papers filed Monday morning in U.S. District Court in Sacramento in advance of Muller’s sentencing, which is scheduled for Thursday. “Public safety requires that he be imprisoned until he is old and weak.”
Muller attorney Tom Johnson is arguing for a 30-year sentence, saying his client suffered from mental illness for years that was so severe he believed the government and his boss at a law firm were spying on him.
“We do not seek to excuse his criminal conduct by blaming it on his mental illness,” Johnson wrote in court documents. “But saying that his mental illness had nothing to do with these crimes also grossly understates the power of a truly debilitating mental illness.”
Muller, 39, a 1995 Bella Vista High School graduate who grew up in Orangevale, pleaded guilty to his bizarre kidnap plot last September in a deal in which prosecutors agreed not to ask for more than a 40-year sentence. U.S. District Judge Troy L. Nunley is not obligated to follow the recommendations from either prosecutors or the defense and could send Muller to prison for life.
Whatever the judge decides will play out in front of Muller – as well as Huskins, 31, and her boyfriend, Aaron Quinn, 32, who was tied up and drugged the night of the kidnapping – and their families Thursday afternoon.
Johnson has argued that Muller’s decision to plead guilty and shield Huskins from a lengthy and painful trial should earn him at least some shred of leniency. But prosecutors say his actions were so depraved that the public will only be safe if he is incarcerated for four decades.
“Muller’s conduct was depraved and egregious: He invaded a stranger’s home, kidnapped a woman, video-recorded himself as he raped her, and used elaborate artifice to convince his victims that he was just one member of a professional crew,” Segal wrote. “Just punishment requires that Muller suffer a severe sentence that accounts for the entirety of his culpable conduct.”
Prosecutors contend that Muller was a serial predator who may have carried out a series of break-ins and attempted rapes at homes in the Bay Area dating back to 2009, after Muller, a former Marine and an attorney, returned from Harvard Law School and moved to Menlo Park. He has not been charged with these crimes.
The first came Sept. 29, 2009, when a masked man broke into a woman’s Menlo Park home, tied her up and placed a mask or goggles over her face while claiming he was there for a robbery. “Stop screaming, or I’ll hurt you,” the suspect said as he “demanded information useful for identity theft,” then gave her a liquid sedative that may have been Nyquil, court documents say.
A similar break-in occurred Oct. 18, 2009, in Palo Alto, when a man tied up and blindfolded a woman and asked for details of her financial accounts before telling her he planned to rape her.
The victim thought the man might have been part of a group in her home but talked the intruder out of assaulting her, court papers say. Instead, he gave her the option of drinking Nyquil, being injected with a drug or being shocked by a stun gun.
Muller was a suspect in both cases because police had seen him “acting suspiciously near where the home invasions” occurred a few days before, court papers say. On Nov. 13, 2009, while he was under investigation, he fled to Utah and told his then-wife “not to tell anyone where he was going,” prosecutors wrote.
Johnson contends Muller fled to Utah for two weeks after having a mental breakdown. Muller had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and sought treatment for suicidal thoughts. He was prescribed Wellbutrin, an antidepressant that can cause manic episodes in people who are bipolar, Johnson wrote.
Three years later, on Nov. 29, 2012, a woman in Palo Alto who lived less than a mile from Muller’s wife woke up to find a man in her bedroom. “The man pinned her to the bed and hurt her,” court documents say. “She believed she was going to be raped or killed, but the man left after stealing some property.”
Muller was stopped two weeks later by police for a traffic violation, and officers found burglary tools in his possession, prosecutors wrote.
By March 2015, Muller was living in Vallejo and began surveillance on Quinn’s Mare Island home, spying on Quinn and Huskins with a drone and possibly entering the home to scope it out before the kidnap, prosecutors wrote.
He broke in about 3 a.m. on March 23, 2015, and tied the couple up, blindfolded them and placed headphones over their ears that played a prerecorded message purporting to be from a group of kidnappers there seeking a ransom payment. As part of his elaborate scheme, Muller wore a military-style vest with a wireless speaker inside one of the mesh pockets.
“That speaker was able to play the audio file that agents later found on Muller’s computer: apparent sounds of a group of people urgently whispering to each other during the kidnapping,” prosecutors wrote.
Muller used a water pistol that he had painted black, and he duct-taped a flashlight and laser pointer to it, prosecutors say. He also set up a blow-up mannequin dressed in military fatigues to further the illusion that a group was present.
Muller ultimately drugged both of them – possibly with Nyquil – and left with Huskins. He placed her in the trunk of Quinn’s car, then drove off and switched vehicles. Huskins was placed in the trunk of the second car, then driven to a South Lake Tahoe home.
Quinn, meanwhile, awoke from the drug and called Vallejo police for help at 1:53 p.m. and described what had happened.
The bizarre tale led detectives to suspect Quinn had killed Huskins and concocted the story. He faced hours of questioning while Huskins was being held in the Tahoe home, where Muller sexually assaulted her twice as he recorded the rapes on video, prosecutors say.
Two days after the abduction, Muller drove Huskins to Huntington Beach and set her free near her parents’ home, then fled. Huskins’ reappearance led Vallejo police to denounce the couple as orchestrating a hoax. Quinn and Huskins are now suing the department.
When he dropped Huskins off, prosecutors say, Muller told her “that he was sorry that they had ‘met under these circumstances.’ ”
But he still was not finished with his crimes. Authorities say he broke into a Dublin home early on the morning of June 15, 2015, and confronted a couple in the house with their daughter.
The parents “were ordered to lie face down on the bed and told if they followed the burglar’s instructions their daughter would be safe,” prosecutors wrote.
Instead, the husband fought back, hitting the intruder on the head with a flashlight. Muller fled, leaving behind zip ties and his cellphone. That phone led authorities to Muller and the Tahoe home, where they discovered evidence linking him to the Huskins abduction.
Muller pleaded no contest to the Dublin break-in in 2015 but has yet to be sentenced. He will serve the sentence for that conviction and the kidnap case concurrently, but Muller still may face additional charges in state court in the Huskins abduction and sexual assaults.
Johnson, Muller’s attorney, is arguing that Muller suffered from severe mental problems for years that left him “basically paralyzed, physically and emotionally.” Muller now is on proper medication in the Sacramento County Jail and is “sick with shame about what happened,” Johnson wrote.
“Thirty years is exactly where Mr. Muller’s sentence should end up,” Johnson wrote. “It means Mr. Muller is not released until he is over 60 years old.
“The sentence consumes much of his adult life and is (five) years more than a person could receive in California for first degree premeditated murder, which has a sentence of 25 years to life.”