A deaf church janitor accused of kidnaping and sexually molesting two young girls, holding one for 44 days in a dungeon-like area beneath a church pulpit, pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges that could send him to prison for 62 years.
Kenneth Michel, 32, admitted that he grabbed Candi Talarico, 4, off the street near her Sacramento home June 4. She was found safe July 18 in a tiny room that Michel had fashioned beneath the floor of the Elk Grove Methodist Church, where he worked part time.
Candi was kept there continuously, with a television, blankets, books and food. Church members prayed for the missing girl, unaware that she was held captive only a few feet away.
Under terms of a plea bargain, Michel pleaded guilty to two counts of kidnaping, a count of attempted kidnaping and seven counts of child molestation.
In court, Michel, bearded and in jail clothes, communicated through a sign-language interpreter. At the end of the proceeding, he smiled and his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Chris Warren, hugged him.
“We would not have agreed to the entry of this plea if we didn’t think the public would be protected,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Ken Peterson said.
Superior Court Judge Carol Miller set sentencing for Dec. 7.
Peterson said he expected Michel to receive the maximum allowable term under the plea agreement, adding he would have to serve at least half of the 62-year, four-month sentence before he is eligible for parole.
In return for the plea, prosecutors dropped one count of child molesting and reduced one kidnaping charge to attempted kidnaping.
With only a vague description of the kidnaper and his car, the case baffled investigators until the morning of Candi’s rescue. A man driving to work spotted Michel grabbing another girl, Muey Han, 5, a Laotian immigrant, and jotted down the license number and phoned police.