US couple who kidnapped girl 18 years back deny charges

San Francisco, Aug 29 (DPA) The California couple charged with abducting an 11-year-old girl and holding her for 18 years denied all 28 charges Friday during a brief court appearance.

The hearing in Placerville, California, took place a day after Jaycee Dugard was reunited with her family following her 18-year nightmare, during which she was forced to bear two children to her captor.

Phillip Garrido, 58, and his wife Nancy, 54, were arrested Wednesday, after he took the two girls to spread religious literature at a university, where a campus guard found them to be suspicious.

Police said that usually the two girls and their mother were confined to a secret warren of sheds hidden in the back yard of Garrido’s property, and had not been to school, seen a doctor or allowed to watch television.

The couple is believed to have snatched Dugard in June 1991 as she was walking with her stepfather in her hometown of Lake Tahoe, California.

Police on Friday started searching the Garrido property, looking for evidence in the murder of several women in the 1990s. Garrido worked at an industrial site close to where the bodies of the women were dumped.

The murder angle surfaced after Dugard Thursday called a local reporter and said that “he did a disgusting thing in the beginning.” But documents he left with the FBI would tell a “heartwarming story” of how he had turned his life around, he said.

Dugard and her daughters were reunited with her family as the investigation continued. Her stepsister Shayna Probyn, 19, said on her MySpace page that the reunion was going well. “She’s only 29. She has the rest of her life to live and I have a lot of love to share with my sister and new nieces,” Probyn wrote.

“In due time my mom will make statements and so will I if needed, but you have to understand this time is critical and the media attention would just add stress to something so delicate.”

Police also revealed a series of missed opportunities to discover the crime earlier.

In 2006, a deputy even visited Garrido’s compound to inv estigate acode violation complaint that people were living in sheds and tents in the back yard. However, the officer never even entered the house and was not informed that Garrido was a registered sex offender.

“I can’t change the course of events, but we are beating ourselves up over this and are the first to do so,” Sheriff Warren E Rupf told a press conference.