Reporting from Placerville, Calif. -- Accused kidnapper and rapist Phillip Garrido pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges that he and his wife abducted an 11-year-old school girl near South Lake Tahoe and held her as a sexual slave for almost 20 years.
Jaycee Dugard, now 30, gave birth to two daughters while in captivity in a ramshackle encampment of tents and soundproof sheds behind the Garridos' Antioch home. Garrido, 60, is the father. He and wife Nancy, 55, have confessed to snatching Dugard as she walked to the school bus in 1991.
Earlier in the week, Nancy's attorney told reporters that her husband would plead guilty to the charges, which were levied in a secret grand jury indictment handed down last September.
"But now there is a hitch, and it didn't happen," attorney Stephen Tapson said outside El Dorado County Superior Court on Thursday morning. "Now there is a legal problem that has to be addressed before anybody pleads anything…. [The problem] is in the selection process of the grand jury."
When Dugard and her girls surfaced in August 2009, the case garnered instant international attention. On Thursday morning, the usually quiet El Dorado County courthouse swarmed with satellite trucks and reporters in anticipation of a Garrido guilty plea.
Nearly every seat was filled in Department 7, as Garrido entered the courtroom and mouthed "I love you" to his wife, who was fighting back tears. Nancy was "emotionally upset just because, No. 1, she's in jail," Tapson said. "No. 2, she's looking at 183 years or more if we go to trial and lose. And she's still worried about Jaycee and the kids."
Susan Gellman, Phillip Garrido's attorney, told reporters Thursday that her client had not planned to plead guilty and that Tapson "shouldn't have been speaking for Phillip. I would say that he should speak for his client. There's always negotiations in the works, but I told you guys last time that there was no offer on the table."
If Garrido had pleaded guilty to the charges in the indictment — which include kidnapping, rape, committing forcible lewd acts upon a child younger than 14 and videotaping the crimes — he would have faced hundreds of years to life in prison.
Instead, Gellman raised concerns about whether the grand jury was selected fairly. She and Tapson will file motions questioning the racial and demographic makeup of the secret body, which was convened in part so that Dugard would not have to testify in public before any trial is held. Transcripts of the grand jury proceedings have been sealed by Judge Douglas Phimister.
"Before you plead to the sheet, as we say, it would be unethical of me not to look at every possibility," Gellman said.
Dist. Atty. Vern Pierson called the grand jury questions raised by the defense "common" in high-profile grand jury cases. "It's a very routine motion to be filed, and it's routine to be denied," Pierson said, adding that he is "relieved" that Phimister set Aug. 1 as the start date for the Garridos' three-week jury trial.
"We're prepared to go to trial as soon as next week," Pierson said. "My responsibility is to see that these two are held accountable for the enormity of their actions…. We're determined to do that."