Sherri Papini, the California woman who admitted to faking her own her kidnapping in 2016, has been sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Papini’s case grabbed national attention when she went missing for several weeks, prompting a frantic search and widespread media coverage. She eventually reappeared with an elaborate story of being abducted by two “Hispanic women”, chained to a pole for three weeks, beaten and branded before being released by the side of a highway.
But after an exhaustive search for her captors, authorities concluded that Papini had made the whole story up. Federal prosecutors have alleged that she actually was staying with a former boyfriend nearly 600 miles away in southern California, and had injured herself to back up the false statements.
Papini, from the northern California town of Redding, was arrested earlier this year and accepted a plea deal with prosecutors that included acknowledging she fabricated the incident.
Probation officers and Papini’s attorney had recommended a month in custody and seven months of supervised home detention. But senior US district Judge William Shubb said he opted for an 18-month sentence in order to deter others.
The judge said he also considered “the sheer number of people who were impacted”.
Papini, who was emotional throughout the proceedings, quietly answered, “Yes, sir,” when the judge asked if she understood the sentence. Previously she was in tears as she gave a statement to the court accepting responsibility and admitting her guilt.
“As painful as it is,” Papini accepted her sentence as part of her recovery, defense attorney William Portanova said after the hearing.
Portanova previously said Papini was troubled and disgraced and that she should serve most of her sentence at home. Prosecutors, though, said it was imperative that she spend her full term in prison. The judge ordered her to report to prison on 8 November.
Exactly what prompted Papini to undertake the elaborate hoax has remained a mystery. In a criminal complaint from the FBI, investigators said that several people close to Papini, including her ex-husband, told them she had a history of lying to draw attention to herself.
“I am deeply ashamed of myself for my behavior and so very sorry for the pain I’ve caused my family, my friends, all the good people who needlessly suffered because of my story and those who worked so hard to try to help me,” Papini said in April in a statement through her lawyer. “I will work the rest of my life to make amends for what I have done.”
Northern California residents had mobilized to find Papini when she disappeared and a GoFundMe raised more than $49,000 for her family. The hoax had “painful consequences” for the Latinas in the area, some of whom stopped walking in groups of two and driving SUVs, the Redding Record-Searchlight reported, due to Papini’s claim that she was abducted by Hispanic women in an SUV.
Prosecutors agreed to seek a sentence on the low end of the sentencing range in exchange for Papini’s guilty plea. That was projected to be between eight and 14 months in custody, down from the maximum 25 years for the two charges.
She has offered no rationale for her actions, which stumped even independent mental health experts who said her behavior didn’t conform with any typical diagnosis.
“Papini’s painful early years twisted and froze her in myriad ways,” Portanova said in arguing for home confinement. With her deception finally revealed, he said, “It is hard to imagine a more brutal public revelation of a person’s broken inner self. At this point, the punishment is already intense and feels like a life sentence.”
But prosecutors said her “past trauma and mental health issues alone cannot account for all of her actions”.
As part of the plea agreement, she has agreed to reimburse law enforcement agencies more than $150,000 for the costs of the search for her and her nonexistent kidnappers, and repay the $128,000 she received in disability payments since her return.