Two of the accused robbers pleaded no contest to multiple charges today, and have agreed to testify against the other defendants. It's a major step forward in a case that has gained national attention.
Sheriff's deputies led each of the five suspects in an historic heist into the Mariposa County Courthouse one by one. The men are accused of stealing more than a million dollars worth of gold and gems from the State Mining and Mineral Museum on September 28th. The attorney for Matthew Campbell says he was the lookout during an attempted robbery there about one week earlier.
"Apparently the people who were going to do it got spooked by something, and they stopped and left, and then 3 of them came back about a week later and did it," said Mike Fagalde, Campbell's attorney.
Mike Fagalde says his client regrets his role in the robbery and has agreed to testify in the case. Campbell pleaded no contest to three felony counts and is facing probation plus a maximum of one year in jail.
"It's going to be difficult for him because he's going to have two strikes on his record for the rest of his life. But he has no prior criminal history," said Fagalde.
Michael Gomes also pleaded no contest to multiple felony counts and admitted to a special allegation of using a pick-axe during the robbery. He's now facing a maximum of just over five years in prison and has also agreed to testify in the case.
But the alleged mastermind, Edward Rushing, requested a new attorney instead of accepting a plea deal that could have sent him to prison for 15 years.
"So there was some discussion because I'm the person making the information known to my client, he's unhappy with me. So we'll find out on Monday what he wants to do," said Logan McKechnie, Rushing's attorney.
Meanwhile, the preliminary hearings for Christopher Sheffield and Jonathan Matis were postponed until next week. Members of the Museum Association who were in the courtroom say they're glad to see justice underway, and are looking forward to putting a nearly 14 pound piece of gold back in the public eye.
"The vault has been closed since the robbery, so we expect it to be open hopefully next month and hopefully to get the Fricot Nugget back on exhibit," said Ron Ludice, State Mining & Mineral Museum Association.