The last time Matthew Daniel Muller had a case in Sacramento federal court, the Harvard-trained defense attorney was handling a deportation matter filed in 2011.
On Monday, the Orangevale man made another appearance, this time as a defendant in a kidnapping case. He sat shackled at his waist and ankles as his parents and friends looked on in shock from the spectator gallery.
Muller, 38, is accused in the bizarre kidnap of a 29-year-old Vallejo woman in March. He made his initial appearance Monday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Allison Claire. He was taken to the Sacramento County Jail afterward and ordered to return to court Oct. 5.
The former U.S. Marine sat ramrod straight at the defense table wearing a long-sleeved white T-shirt and slacks and did not speak during the brief hearing. Sacramento attorney Tom Johnson, who is representing Muller, said after court that he expects his client to be indicted soon and that he will plead not guilty to charges that could lead to a life sentence.
“He’ll enter a plea of not guilty, and we anticipate that we’ll be litigating every issue here in federal court,” Johnson said. “There’s no resolution that we anticipate ever entering into.”
Muller served in the Marines in Afghanistan and graduated from Pomona College and Harvard Law School. He is accused in a kidnap case that drew national attention after Vallejo police originally labeled it as a hoax.
Denise Huskins and her boyfriend, Aaron Quinn, have vehemently denied that accusation and have since filed a claim against the city of Vallejo, a move that typically is a precursor to a lawsuit.
The case began when Quinn called Vallejo police on the afternoon of March 23 and told them someone had broken into the couple’s Mare Island home, held them at gunpoint and forcibly drugged them.
Huskins was taken from the home and released two days later in Huntington Beach.
The case continues to draw widespread attention, with the eighth-floor courtroom in downtown Sacramento filled Monday with Sacramento and Bay Area reporters, as well as Muller relatives and supporters.
Johnson argued that Muller should be allowed to appear in court without his hands shackled, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Segal said the nature of the allegations and Muller’s questionable mental state require that he remain shackled.
Segal noted that the 6-foot, 190-pound Muller is “dangerous, unstable, obviously huge and strong.”
“To the degree that there’s a defense in this case, it’s that he’s so mentally ill that he can’t control himself,” Segal said.
The judge agreed to have Muller remain shackled and have the issue addressed at his next court hearing.
“I just think it’s inhumane to be shackled,” Johnson told reports afterward. “He’s not a danger in court.”
Johnson added that he would “explore all aspects of the defense of Mr. Muller” and that “part of that could be looking into his mental health.”
Part of the case may focus on whether Muller was the individual who claimed to represent a group that conducted the kidnapping and began sending a series of emails containing outlandish claims. The emails described the kidnappers as “a sort of ‘Ocean’s Eleven,’ gentlemen criminals who only took stuff that that was insured from people who could afford it.”
The group then moved on to kidnapping, the emails claimed, and Huskins’ abduction was described as a trial run before the band moved on to wealthy victims.
The emails also described high-tech use of cameras and drones. Subsequent FBI searches of a self-storage unit Muller rented in Vallejo resulted in the seizure of five drones, remote controls, video cameras and other items.
The FBI also searched a South Lake Tahoe home owned by the Muller family, two Orangevale homes and a red Ford Mustang belonging to Muller that was parked at the Reno Tahoe Airport.
Muller is charged with kidnapping in a criminal complaint filed June 29 in Sacramento federal court.
Muller had been held in Alameda County’s Santa Rita Jail since June awaiting the resolution of the charges there. That case stemmed from a Dublin home invasion on June 5 that was similar to the Vallejo case. In that incident, authorities said, an intruder entered the home at 3:34 a.m. but fled after the husband hit the intruder on the head with a flashlight.
Authorities found a cellphone at the home that they later linked to Muller, and they found him on June 8 at the family Tahoe home.
Muller, a 1995 graduate of Bella Vista High School in Fair Oaks, enlisted in the Marines after high school and later became an immigration attorney in San Francisco.
His legal career was short-lived. The law firm that hired him accused him of stealing its records and spending the night in a sleeping bag to rummage through computer files while no one could see him.
The state Bar accused him of failing to show up for cases, and his attorney says he suffers from mental health issues.
At his court hearing in Alameda County last week, Muller became faint and couldn’t stand.
“He’s fine,” Johnson said. “Court is very stressful and he became faint and sat down. He gathered himself went forward with a plea of no contest.”