Disbarred Harvard-educated attorney Matthew Muller (39) received a sentence of forty years in a California correctional institute on March 16th. Muller pleaded guilty to kidnapping Denise Huskins, a San Fransisco woman in a complicated and bizarre scheme which was compared to the plot of the best-selling novel and subsequent film “Gone Girl”.
Turn on any 24-hour cable news television station these days and you will quickly realize that reality has become stranger than fiction. On any given day, Anderson Cooper or Rachel Maddow can be viewed reporting stories of Russian spies or White House leaks. Similarly, a true crime story has recently broken that could only be described as something straight out of the pages of a riveting fictional book.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: In 2015, a young California couple were secretly spied on in their home. Using expensive flying drones, Muller hatched a convoluted scheme for kidnapping Denise Huskins and her boyfriend Aaron Quinn. After weeks of surveillance, Muller made his move. The Harvard trained lawyer invaded their home at the precise time, blindfolded and tied the couple up, and forced them to drink a sedative at gun point. Next, he played a pre-recorded message which stated that he would hurt or kill them if they didn’t comply. Muller then snatched Huskins from her home, leaving Quinn, and barricaded her in a cabin home in the mountains where he repeatedly raped her. Muller then made phone calls to Quinn demanding millions of dollars in ransom. Meanwhile, Quinn was being questioned by police officers who were understandably suspicious of his surreal story. When Huskins was mysteriously and frequently spotted around town in Huntington Beach during the time period that she was supposedly kidnapped, police officers shrugged off the kidnapping as a hoax similar to the plot of the “Gone Girl” film and book.
However, the scenario, as well as the seriousness of the case switched when Muller was later arrested for a robbery elsewhere in the Bay Area. He allegedly possessed goggles with blonde hair attached and a computer both traced back to Quinn. After an apology to Quinn and Huskins, Muller was charged with felony kidnapping. Federal criminal code (18 U.S.C. § 1201) makes kidnapping a serious felony offense, with prison sentences starting at a minimum of 20 or more years, depending on prior convictions and the circumstances of the case. Federal law prosecutes international parental kidnapping under a different code (18 U.S.C. § 1204), allowing for three-year prison sentences upon conviction. Most kidnapping cases are prosecuted on the state level. Federal authorities will typically get involved and file federal charges if the kidnapping crosses state lines. In this case, Muller faced federal charges because of the nature of the kidnapping, as he transported his victim hundreds of miles from her Bay Area home.
After a few years of motions and resets Muller finally faced his fate last week at his sentencing hearing. With the mountain of evidence built up against him Muller pleaded guilty to all charges and threw himself on the mercy of the court. According to NY Daily News, in order to explain Muller’s state of mind, possibly for a more lenient sentence, Muller’s lawyers said that the former attorney is also a former U.S. Marine who suffers from “paranoia, a break with reality, depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, mania, and bipolar disorder.” Both Huskins and Quinn spoke of their horrific ordeal at the hearing. The victims were allowed to speak at the open court date and the AP reports that Huskins tearfully stated “You treated me like an object, a toy, an animal. “I still have nightmares every night,” she said. “Sleep is not rest for me. It is a trigger.” U.S. District Judge Troy Nunley called the abduction a “heinous, atrocious, horrible crime” and handed down a 40 year prison sentence to the disbarred attorney with a once bright future.
Additionally, this isn’t the end of the road for Muller. According to reporting from a local ABC news station, the District Attorney’s office of Solano County (a suburb of San Fransisco), is looking to potentially charge Muller with state charges for the acts that took place in the city. “We anticipate being able to get all the discovery from the U.S. Attorney’s Office so that we can make an informed determination as to whether we should file charges here in Solano County,” said Solano County District Attorney Krishna Abrams. Rappaport says the other charges include burglary, stealing Aaron Quinn’s car, taking personal identifying information and kidnapping Huskins with the intent for sexual assault. These are crimes that could carry a life term.
The kidnapping victim is now in the process of suing the city and two unnamed police officers who investigated the case. She is accusing them of defamation and emotional distress. Defamation, is a legal topic that has been popping up in the news, and on Gotham City Esq, often of late. Under Cal. Civ. Code §§ 44, 45a, and 46 in California, a private figure plaintiff, Such as Huskins, bringing a defamation lawsuit must prove that the defendants (the state and the police officers) were at least negligent with respect to the truth or falsity of the allegedly defamatory statements. Public officials, all-purpose public figures, and limited-purpose public figures must prove that the defendant acted with actual malice, i.e., knowing that the statements were false or recklessly disregarding their falsity. In other words, Huskins is claiming that the police acting as an agent for the state, defamed her by pegging her as a liar for relaying her kidnapping story. Ultimately, the state may have special protections against this type of civil suit.
This sensational headline grabbing case made national news because of the peculiar facts of the case. However, it also brought to light several important topics such as competent police work. Also, the situation highlighted a open secret in the legal community concerning mental health. While Muller’s mental state may have had something to do with his time in military service, the stress of practicing has affected many nameless attorneys all across the country. This story is no doubt, a wake up call to any lawyer to seek help if they are dealing with internal issues. Regardless, if Huskins collects any civil damages from her civil suit against the state, surely she can eventually parlay this entire traumatic situation into a book or even a film. What’s Ben Afleck been up to lately?