SAN FRANCISCO – Three decades ago, a convicted kidnapper named Phillip Garrido stunned a Leavenworth Prison psychologist by turning down an offer most prisoners would leap to take — help with a transfer to a mental health facility.
Instead, Garrido opted to spend at least three more years doing hard time so he could complete his religious studies.
Along his twisted trail of drugs and sexual violence, records and interviews show that Garrido invoked God at every turn before he was arrested Aug. 26 and accused of kidnapping, raping and imprisoning Jaycee Dugard for 18 years in his backyard.
Again and again, he claimed he had found God. To a woman he had abducted and was about to rape. To the judge who sentenced him to 50 years behind bars for the crime. And later, to business clients and neighbors in Antioch, Calif.
In the end, his increasingly bizarre religious fervor took on a desperate, prophetic quality and led to his capture after he tried to hold a rally on a college campus.
Molesters commonly turn to religion to rationalize their behavior, said Ken Lanning, a former FBI profiler who specializes in kidnapping and child abuse cases.
"A lot of them when they're molesting children put a lot of time and energy into trying to convince themselves that they're not bad people," Lanning said. "In some cases the element of religion will come into it, and they will use varying aspects of their religious belief to justify all of this."
The 58-year-old Garrido's preoccupation with religion started shortly after he began taking large quantities of LSD, cocaine and other drugs in the early 1970s.
Garrido, who worked odd jobs and played bass guitar in a band, told a casino worker in 1976 that his car had broken down and convinced her to give him a ride. He soon had her gagged and handcuffed, then took her to a storage unit decked out like a sex palace, where he sexually assaulted her for five hours.
After she was rescued, she told police that Garrido preached about God to her while she was handcuffed in the back seat.
"He talked a lot about Jesus on our ride, telling me about how he was going to turn himself over to God next year because Jesus was the way, and on and on," she said.
He testified on February 11, 1977, that he truly found God while sitting in a Reno jail waiting for his federal kidnapping trial to start. "I believed in God for the last three years, but it was just the last three months that I have been brought to God," Garrido said.
Later, in a note seeking a reduction in his 50-year sentence, Garrido vowed that he had become devoutly religious.
"He based his new religious interests more appropriately on the considerable guilt and fear he was experiencing since being incarcerated," a court-appointed psychiatrist concluded in a mental health report to the judge.
During his first year in prison in Leavenworth, Kan., Garrido told prison psychologist J.B. Kielbauch he did not want to be "released from incarceration to a program of psychological treatment" because of religion.
"Interestingly, Mr. Garrido asked that he be permitted another three years of incarceration in lieu of that so he could complete his current program of training and religious development," Kielbauch wrote.
Kielbauch's 1978 mental evaluation also said Garrido had become a "very absorbed" Jehovah's Witness practitioner. "When he commits to a cause or purpose," the psychologist wrote, "he tends to approach it with extreme zeal and diligence."
"Prognosis for successful transition to the community is considered very good," Kielbauch wrote. "The likelihood of further extralegal behaviors on Mr. Garrido's part is seen as minimal."
Garrido ended up spending 10 years in federal prison. Three years after his release he and his wife Nancy allegedly kidnapped Dugard, then 11, from a South Lake Tahoe street, raped her and held her captive in a backyard jumble of tents and sheds. During that time, authorities say Garrido fathered two daughters with Dugard.
Garrido and his wife have pleaded not guilty to kidnapping, rape and false imprisonment charges.
In recent years, Garrido had established a small printing business and had become consumed by his religious fixations. In July 2008, he incorporated a religious organization called God's Desire and invited others to come to church at his home.
His clients could make little sense of Garrido's ramblings and said they put up with him because his prices were low.
But Garrido did make clear he believed he had a direct line to the divine. He brought a device to client meetings through which he said others could hear the "unearthly" voices he channelled through his mind.
"He said God spoke to him and told him how to invent the machine," said Cheyvonne Molino, who co-owns a Pittsburg wrecking yard where Garrido advertised he would hold a weeklong religious event in July.
Molino said that in reality Garrido sat under a 10-foot by 10-foot tent, handed out water and sang songs. She said his apparatus was merely a DJ mixing board, an amplifier and a microphone into which Garrido would whisper nonsense.
Garrido's religion had morphed from traditional Christian beliefs to a nearly indecipherable dogma that placed Garrido as a prophet who held the keys to a deep secret.
Days before his arrest, Garrido approached the FBI and University of California, Berkeley with a lengthy document preaching his strongly held religious and self-help beliefs. His bizarre behavior at UC Berkeley attracted the attention of campus police, leading to his arrest.
In his writings, Garrido repeats that he has discovered a way to overcome the thoughts that lead to abhorrent behavior. He writes in one tract that some people who engage in "aggressive sexual behavior" hate their actions and try to stop.
"Unfortunately the next time they become aroused, it stimulates the mind to override all possible regrets, returning them to a helplessness of becoming a repeat offender," he said.