LOS ANGELES (AFP) – A California couple pleaded guilty to kidnapping a schoolgirl and raping her repeatedly while holding her captive for almost two decades, in a deal welcomed by the now 30-year-old victim.
Phillip Garrido, who fathered two children with Jaycee Dugard after kidnapping her aged 11 in 1991, and his wife Nancy entered the pleas in an unexpected move after their lawyers hammered out an agreement.
"I'm relieved that Phillip and Nancy Garrido have finally acknowledged their guilt and confessed to their crimes against me and my family," Dugard said in a statement.
Dugard's long ordeal in captivity with paroled sex offender Garrido and his wife came to light when she was freed in August 2009, 18 years after she was snatched at the age of 11 while walking to a school bus stop.
The Garridos were indicted in October on 18 charges including three counts of kidnapping, six of rape, seven of forced lewd acts upon a child, one of false imprisonment and one count of possession or control of child pornography.
In early April they pleaded not guilty, and the next hearing in their case had been scheduled for next month.
But on Thursday Phillip Garrido, 60, pleaded guilty to counts including kidnap, kidnap for the purpose of sex, forcible rape and forcible lewd acts, while Nancy Garrido, 55, pleaded guilty to kidnap and rape.
They will be sentenced on June 2, but under plea bargains agreed by them both he is expected to be jailed for 431 life -- effectively life behind bars -- while Nancy Garrido will jailed for between 36 years and life.
Both have waived their right to appeal, said a statement by the office of El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson.
Garrido was accused of kidnapping Dugard outside her home in South Lake Tahoe, California in 1991, just three years after he was released from prison, where he served only 11 years of a 50-year sentence for a rape.
Dugard was found alive nearly two years ago in the secret backyard compound of Garrido's home in Antioch, east of San Francisco, where he had imprisoned her.
Just months earlier Josef Fritzl had been jailed for life in Austria for holding his daughter as a sex slave for 24 years in a cramped, windowless chamber and murdering one of their seven children.
Reacting to the guilty pleas, El Dorado County district attorney Pierson said: "The enormity of the defendants? actions has caused tremendous pain and suffering to Jaycee, her mother Terry Probyn and their family.
"With a guilty plea by both defendants, Terry, Jaycee and her children can now be spared the grief and trauma of having to be dragged into the court process to testify at a jury trial," he added in a statement.
Paying tribute to Dugard, he added: "Jaycee's courage and willingness to confront her abductors in court directly led to the defendants' plea and life sentences."
The case led to angry questions about how Garrido had been free to kidnap Dugard and how authorities had failed to discover his crimes earlier, even though he was on parole and subject to tight monitoring by authorities.
The state of California, intensely criticized for not catching on to Garrido's scheme, has paid Dugard $20 million in compensation for her suffering.
Since being freed, Dugard has been living at a secret location with her family including her two daughters by Garrido, now 13 and 16.
Nancy Garrido's lawyer, Stephen Tapson, said she agreed to the plea bargain after prosecutors dropped some charges.
"She obviously committed a serious wrong," Tapson told reporters outside the court. "But in her view now, she?s made peace with God and wants to get on with life, what?s left of it."