PLACERVILLE -- Contrary to expectations, Phillip Garrido pleaded not guilty Thursday in the kidnapping, sexual bondage and 18-year captivity of Jaycee Dugard, paving the way for a trial by the end of the summer.
A last-minute motion challenging the method of selection of the grand jury that indicted him spurred the turn of events, said El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson.
He said he expected the motion will be denied and, unless Phillip Garrido pleads guilty, he will stand trial in August alongside his wife and co-defendant, Nancy Garrido.
Susan Gellman, Phillip Garrido's attorney, said she had no evidence of a problem with the grand jury but filed the motion as a matter of due diligence.
She rejected comments by Nancy Garrido's attorney Stephen Tapson, who this week said Phillip Garrido would likely plead guilty. There has never been a plea offer or agreement with the district attorney regarding Phillip Garrido, she said.
"He shouldn't have been speaking for Phillip. He should speak for his own client," Gellman said. "Who does that? That was a wrong thing for him to do."
Tapson said he believed based on closed-door meetings this week that barring a hitch, Phillip Garrido, 59, would plead guilty and then testify on behalf of his wife. Gellman's motion, he said, qualified as the hitch.
"I unleashed the yellow jackets," Tapson said half-jokingly before a battery of local and national media that had gathered in anticipation of a guilty plea. "I was hoping Mr. Garrido would be gone and Nancy is left to go to trial."
According to the more than two dozen counts levied against him, Phillip Garrido could be sentenced to as many as 500 years in prison.
Phillip Garrido in February was deemed fit to stand trial. Gellman reiterated previous comments that a virtual life sentence for her client is a likely outcome. Authorities say the Garridos confessed this year to the kidnapping and captivity scheme.
Gellman cited her client's competency hearings as the reason she filed her motion seven months after the two were indicted by a grand jury.
Tapson has said he will argue in a trial that Nancy Garrido, 55, acquiesced to the scheme under duress from her husband and that she did not participate in the sexual abuse of Dugard, now 30. He said early on in the court proceedings that he hoped Nancy Garrido could be out of prison in her 80s or 90s, which would not happen without a plea deal.
"(District Attorney Pierson) could save us a lot of money by giving Nancy 30 years instead of 180 years to life," Tapson said.
Pierson said Phillip Garrido's plea was a sign the case is moving forward. He was not receptive to Tapson's pleas for leniency for Nancy.
"My responsibility is to see these two are held accountable for the enormity of their actions," Pierson said, adding that prosecutors would be prepared to go to trial "next week" if need be.
Also on Thursday, Judge Douglas Phimister worked with defense attorneys to amend language in the charging documents, prompting Nancy Garrido to re-enter a not guilty plea and her husband to enter a plea for the first time. He also ordered that grand jury transcripts containing testimony from Dugard would remain sealed for the foreseeable future.
In a Placerville courthouse, Phillip and Nancy Garrido both wore orange prison garb, with Phillip showing light stubble, a significantly different look from the heavy beard he had grown for most of the fall and winter. His only words in court were "Yes, sir" when responding to Phimister's routine legal questions.
Nancy Garrido sat in court bespectacled with frizzy salt-and-pepper hair pulled away from her face. Until recently, she had used her hair to shield her face from news cameras. Still, she could be seen holding back tears during the 15-minute hearing.
Phillip Garrido's not guilty plea keeps open a case that has had lasting repercussions locally and in the state.
The Garridos arrests were a flash point for state parole agents and local authorities, who were excoriated for their failure to uncover the captivity that began when the Garridos are said to have snatched the 11-year-old Dugard from a street in her South Lake Tahoe neighborhood in 1991 as her stepfather desperately chased after them on a bicycle.
According to authorities and the defendants, Dugard lived in a warren of tents, sheds and outbuildings behind their Walnut Avenue home just outside Antioch city limits. One of those structures was soundproofed and is believed to be where Dugard bore two daughters fathered by Phillip Garrido, likely delivered by Nancy, a nursing assistant.
Dugard's daughters grew up believing she was their sister and while her true identity was kept under wraps -- she went by "Alyssa" -- several people who knew the Garridos interacted with her, oblivious that she was a person who had been missing for more than a decade. They would later learn she was the driving force behind the Garridos' home printing business.
All of that escaped the detection of authorities, particularly state parole agents, who were assigned to Garrido after his parole was transferred from Nevada in 1999 stemming from his conviction in the 1976 kidnap and rape of a South Lake Tahoe woman in Reno.
The Contra Costa Sheriff's Office also had a chance in November 2006 to uncover the Garridos' scheme when a deputy was called to the home after someone reported that people were living in his backyard. But the deputy never set foot inside and opted to question Phillip Garrido outside before leaving.
On Aug. 26, 2009, Garrido went to the UC Berkeley campus with his daughters seeking a permit to espouse his religious views on campus. Two wary campus officials ran a check and called his parole officer. He showed up at the parole office with his wife, Jaycee and the two girls, leading to hours of questioning and, ultimately, the couple's arrest.
The Dugard revelation prompted state and county promises of increased diligence, with then-Sheriff Warren Rupf adopting a mantra of "Look in the backyard" to preach thoroughness.
When the news of Dugard's reappearance broke, hordes of national and international media descended on Walnut Avenue outside Antioch.
Local leaders unavailingly fought the association of the case with the city, thwarted in part by their history of attempts to annex the neighborhood.
Dugard has been living in seclusion in Northern California with her daughters and her mother, Terry Probyn.
She received a $20 million settlement from the state and is writing a book about her experiences, but other than a story in People magazine and a short video clip released last year, she has refrained from making public statements or appearances.
Robert Salonga covers public safety. Contact him at 925-943-8013. Follow him at Twitter.com/robertsalonga.